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On the Rocks

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The sound of a barstool scraping against the floor makes her turn from the sink where she’s drying glasses. Sitting at the bar is a bloke wearing a rumpled suit and an expression of pure melancholy. His face is unfamiliar, but the expression is not. He looks like he could use several stiff ones.

“What’re you having?” the bartender asks, setting a coaster in front of him.

“Laphroaig, on the rocks,” the man answers in a thick Scottish brogue, sounding immeasurably tired.

“Ten year okay, or do you want the eighteen?”

“Better make it the eighteen.”

“Rough day?” she says, setting the drink in front of him.

“You could say that,” he replies vaguely.

Over the years, she’s learned not to pry, and at the end of the day, she tries not to care. Everyone jokes about bartenders being makeshift therapists, but she knows this to be true. A pub is a confessional, and she is the one who offers the troubled absolution, whether in the form of kind words or a scotch over ice. She winces as the man tosses back the drink in one gulp.

“Another,” he says, his glass banging down on the bar top.

Wordlessly, she refills the glass, taking note of how skinny he is. Two scotches, she bets, is more than enough, but she never says those sorts of things out loud. She also notices that he is handsome, though not in a conventional sort of way. He’s got a bit of a lazy eye, his face is lean and maybe a smidge too angular, and his lips look thin. His hair though is perfect, brown and tousled and sticking out in every which direction. She’d love to run her hands through it, to see if it’s as soft as it looks. She’s startled out of her fantasy when he finally speaks again.

“Are you married?”

The question catches her off guard. She’s used to patrons, especially the male ones, trying to chat her up, but she doesn’t get the impression that that is what he’s trying to do.

“No, it’s just me,” she finally replies.

“Good,” he says. He sips his scotch, swallows. “I’d stay that way, if I were you. Marriage is like a deck of cards.”

“How so?”

“In the beginning, all you need is two hearts and a diamond. By the end of it, you wish you had a club and a spade.”

She stifles a laugh, not wanting him to think she’s mocking his pain. “That’s terrible. Funny, but terrible. I’ve never heard that one before.”

He grunts noncommittally, and swirls the alcohol around his glass. “The thrill is in the chase, never the capture.”

She doesn’t bother telling him how cynical he sounds. “Would you like another?”

“I can’t afford another,” he admits.

“Tell you what, mate. This one’s on me,” she replies, pouring him two fingers worth.

“Thank you,” he says, squinting at her name tag.

“Name’s Rose. Rose Tyler.”

“Thank you, Rose Tyler. I’m Alec. Alec Hardy”

“Pleasure,” she says as another patron flags her down.

After that it gets busy, and she gets so caught up pouring beers and mixing cocktails that she doesn’t notice he’s left until a few minutes after he’s gone, leaving only his empty glass and a twenty pound note behind. It’s when she goes to put it into the till that she notices there’s a phone number scrawled on the back of it.

She calls him at 3am, and he answers on the second ring.

“Hi, it’s Rose,” she says, twisting a lock of hair around the hand that isn’t holding the phone. “Did I wake you?”

He asks her if she wants to come over, and without thinking, she says yes. He gives her the address of a seedy hotel in town, and after a twenty minute cab ride she’s standing outside of his room, shifting from one foot to the other as she internally debates whether she’s actually going to knock or not. This is completely out of character for her, to hook up with a random stranger, but for some reason she’s drawn to him. The door swings opens just as she raises her fist.

“Were you going to pace there all night?” he asks, not unkindly.

“No, sorry,” she says, jamming her hands into her coat pockets as she walks past him into the hotel room. He shuts the door behind her, and they both stand there in uncomfortable silence.

When they finally tumble naked onto the bed together and he buries his face between her thighs, she finds that she doesn’t mind his thin lips at all.

Chapter Text

He wakes up to the sound of rain pounding against the window panes and a body, warm, soft, and naked, curled up against him. His arm is draped loosely over her waist, his face nestled against the nape of her neck. Her hair smells like fresh strawberries and cream, not of the cheap, chemical perfumes many women her age seem to favor. She smells good enough to eat. He buries his nose deeper, seeking the fragrant skin between her jaw and shoulder.

Holy shit,” he thinks with bewildered gratitude. “She’s still here. In bed. With me.

Then he begins to panic a little bit, because he hadn’t stopped to consider the possibility that a woman might actually choose to spend the night with him, rather than sneaking out at five in the morning under the cover of darkness, like a thief. As if on cue, Rose stirs, arches her back, and presses her bum against him. His body reacts immediately, his cock going rock hard at the touch of her bare skin against his own. A shiver runs down his spine and he tightens his grip on her, bucking his hips reflexively. She wiggles against him again, slow and deliberate, and turns her head just slightly, revealing the pale expanse of her neck.

Presented with such a glorious opportunity, he can’t help but to nibble gently at the skin there. She moans appreciatively, and the sound sends a toe-curling bolt of electricity surging through his body. He still doesn’t understand how or why such a voluptuous goddess chose his of all beds to warm, but he intends to take full advantage of the situation, before she inevitably realizes what a selfish and insufferable arsehole he really is. At the very least, he can send her on her way thinking him a capable and generous lover. Considering he’s leaving London tomorrow, he thinks it unlikely she’ll ever get the chance to find out otherwise.

In fact, he’s counting on it.

Rose seems like a nice girl, the kind who would be better off without a petulant and maudlin man such as himself. That doesn’t stop him though from wanting to hear his name gasped from her lips. He prays silently to whatever gods are willing to listen, “...for once in my life, let me get what I want. Lord knows it would be the first time.

She turns around, catching him by surprise. Her fringe is hanging over her forehead, half covering her eyes, and she’s biting her lower lip in such a lascivious manner that it makes his cock throb just looking at her. When she tilts her head up to kiss him, he closes his eyes and swipes his tongue along the seam of her lips, silently begging entrance. Her mouth opens to him, tasting faintly of tea and honey, and he greedily drinks in the satin feeling of her lips on his and her pert little breasts pressed tight against him. He breaks the snog, drops his head to her chest, and eagerly begins to lave her nipples with his tongue, first the left, then the right, until both are dusky pink and aching and she’s twisting against the sheets. He licks a wet stripe, from her nipples to her navel, to the apex of her trembling thighs. Putting his hands just above her knees, he gently parts her legs and lays his stubbled cheek against the smooth expanse of her left inner thigh.

“Oh God Alec, please,” she groans, tugging roughly at his hair.

“Well...if you insist,” he replies, trying not to sound entirely too pleased with himself. He buries his face between her legs, runs his tongue teasingly along her already slick folds, and wraps his lips around her clit. He flicks his tongue gently against the swollen nub several times in rapid succession, making her sigh and fist her hands into the sheets. Encouraged, he slides two fingers inside her and begins to pump them while he suckles at her core, and the sound she makes in response is thoroughly indecent. He doesn’t stop until her breathy little sighs become shallow pants and gasps and her whole body shakes with the force of her orgasm. Satisfied, he collapses next to her on the mattress, sweaty and breathless.

“Oh, I’m not quite finished with you yet,” she says, rolling over to straddle him.

“Oh?” he replies, cocking an eyebrow.

“Unless you weren’t interested in shagging…?” she says, tracing circles around his nipple with her finger.

“No, I’m definitely interested,” he answers, a little too quickly. They hadn’t gotten quite this far last night.

She smiles at him, and her tongue pokes between her teeth. “I thought you might be. D’you have a condom?”

“Ah...no,” he says sheepishly. “I’m only recently divorced, and my ex and I never used them. You’re the first woman I’ve been with besides my wife in eighteen years.”

“Seriously?” she asks, and this time she’s the one raising her eyebrows.

“Seriously,” he replies.

She seems to consider this admission. “I mean, as long as you’re clean, I’m on the pill.”

“I’m clean.”

“You sure?”

“I had myself tested after I found out my wife was cheating. I’m clean,” he says tersely.

She cringes. “So I guess that’s why you’re divorced?”

“Something like that, yeah,” he replies, eager to change the subject and get back to the task at hand.

“I totally just killed the mood, didn’t I?” she asks, covering her face with her hands and peering at him through her fingers, chagrined.

“Why don’t you ask my hard on about that?” he responds wryly.

She laughs then, a genuine, girlish giggle, and the sound warms him better than a shot of whiskey. It could be because she’s the first woman in a while to pay kind attention to him, or it could be because she’s beautiful, but he never wants to forget the sound of her laugh or the look of her tongue-touched grin. He honestly can’t remember the last time a woman smirked or smiled at him with anything other than pity or scorn.

Perhaps he’s not completely irredeemable.

She leans down and snogs him then, slow and languorous, and he feels a flash of regret knowing that there are unlikely to be more kisses like this one in his future. Not that he deserves them, of course, but oh God, does he want them. He wants them as badly as he wants to numb his pain and forget the woman who simultaneously destroyed his career and broke his heart.

Rose reaches between them and grabs him firmly by the base of his cock. Stroking up and down his length with her hand, she guides him to her entrance, and finally, blissfully, sheathes him in her wet velvet heat. Stars explode behind his eyes, and he feels the muscles of his abdomen tighten.

Oh no you don’t!” he thinks furiously to himself, silently commanding his affection-starved body not to betray and humiliate him. He wants to savor the experience of being with her, make it last as long as possible. God knows he’s probably headed for one hell of a dry spell, for the sake of his sanity he’s going to need something for the spank bank. He grits his teeth together, tightens his grip on her waist, and thrusts his hips, plunging himself deeper into her slick silken warmth. She gasps and rocks against him, creating an even more delicious friction that makes his nerve endings sing. Somehow, perfectly in sync, they both roll over so that he’s now on top of her.

“Fuck me. Hard,” she whispers in his ear.

“Oh, with pleasure,” he says, sliding almost all the way out before thrusting back in. Hands braced on either side of her shoulders, he pumps into her, relentless as the sea crashing into the shore. She lifts her legs and wraps them around him, locking her ankles behind his back and forcing him him even deeper. Her gorgeous honey-colored eyes never leave his, and for a moment he can almost believe that the connection between them is more than just purely physical. The tension within him builds to an almost unbearable level, and he finally empties himself into her with a strangled cry. Panting, he collapses next to her on the bed, his breathing ragged and his heart still racing.

“Goddamn, that was good,” she says breathlessly.

Good?” he thinks to himself. “That was bloody brilliant!” But all he says out loud is, “Yeah.”

“Mind if I smoke?” she asks, already leaning over to grab her purse off the floor.

He does mind, actually, but he just shakes his head. He doesn’t want to give her an excuse to get out of bed quite yet.

She lights a cigarette, inhales, and exhales a thin plume of smoke. “So. Breakfast?”

His heart leaps at the suggestion of spending even more time with her. He knows he should say no, for both of their sakes.

But instead, he says, “Yes.”

Chapter Text

He’s not really hungry.

Mesmerized, he watches Rose methodically slather butter on her toast and add too much sugar and cream to her coffee. He still can’t believe that she hasn’t scarpered off yet, or that she doesn’t mind being seen with him out in public. Maybe she doesn’t read the papers or watch the news, he muses. Obviously, she doesn’t realize she’s having breakfast with the Worst Cop in Britain. He has to believe if she did know, she’d probably want nothing to do with him. Hell, he doesn’t even want anything to do with himself lately. Not since Tess lost vital evidence while she was conducting her sordid little tryst. The worst part about the whole situation is that he hadn’t even suspected a thing. If the evidence hadn’t gone missing, he probably would’ve never known about the affair. Some detective he’s turned out to be.

“Hey, are you alright? You’ve hardly touched your oatmeal.”

He snaps back into himself at the sound of her voice. “Hmm? Oh, yeah, I’m fine. Just thinking.”

“About?”

“Nothing in particular.”

“You’re not a very good liar, you know,” she says, not unkindly.

“Why did you call me? We barely talked, you hardly knew me, but you called me. Why?” he asks before he can change his mind and chicken out. He’s still desperate to know what this woman sees in him.

She shrugs offhandedly. “Dunno, really. You were cute, funny, and you left a good tip. I was lonely, you seemed lonely, too. Why’d you leave me your number?”

He can’t very well tell her the truth (that he was looking for a revenge shag), but he doesn’t want to lie, so he compromises. “Because you were kind to me.”

“Is kindness that rare for you?” she asks, taking a sip of her coffee.

“Yes,” he replies, not bothering to elaborate. He doesn’t want to bore or burden her with the boatload of baggage he’s toting around.

She reaches out across the table to clasp his hand briefly. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” he says, withdrawing back against his chair. “I’m kind of a bastard.”

“Could’ve fooled me,” she says, spooning raspberry jam onto her toast.

He’s not sure what to say in response to that. Could it be possible that she actually does like him? Well, she seems to at any rate, but then again, she doesn’t really know him at all. He’s torn between wanting to stay and bask in the warmth of her glow and knowing that he’s just prolonging the inevitable. The longer he holds out, the more it’s just going to end up hurting. The longer he stays with her, the more he will fantasize about all the things that could never be. Why does he have to fall in love with every woman he sees who shows him the least bit of attention?

“How old are you?” he blurts out awkwardly.

She raises her eyebrows, but if she thinks the question rude she doesn’t mention it. “Twenty-five. Is that important?”

“No,” he says, not sure if he should feel guilty or relieved that she’s at least ten years older than his daughter and less than fifteen years younger than himself.

“Quid pro quo, Alec. How old are you?” she asks, propping her chin up with her hand.

“Too old,” he replies, and that is the truth.

She shakes her head and chuckles. “You can’t bullshit a bullshitter. How old are you, really?”

“I’ll turn thirty-eight later this year.”

“You’re older than you look,” she finally comments a few moments later.

“I could say the same about you,” he answers back, a slight edge in his voice.

“Touché.”

They lapse into an uncomfortable silence that neither one of them attempts to break. He takes a few bites of his sodden, joyless oatmeal and sips his too weak and overly sweet tea, trying not to stare at her as she nibbles delicately around the edges of her toast. Her tongue darts out to lick away a bit of jam at the corner of her mouth, and he swallows hard, watching. A million questions that he shouldn’t ask her run through his mind, but he stays silent. He should go. He should really, really go, before he says or does something stupid or embarrassing.

“Did you want to take that oatmeal to go, love?” the waitress asks, stopping at the side of their table.

“Oh. Um, no, I think I’m done with it,” he says, pushing the bowl away. “Sorry.”

“Don’t apologize to me, you’re the one paying for it,” she says matter of factly, clearing the dirty dishes and silverware from the table. “I’ll be right back with the cheque.”

“Are you quite sure you’re alright?” Rose asks him again after they’ve paid the bill and left the restaurant.

“Fine,” he lies. “I just need to get going. I have to get back to my hotel and pack for check out.”

“Oh...alright,” she says. “Well, I had a really nice time with you.”

“Oh believe me, the pleasure was all mine,” he replies sincerely.

“Could I call you again sometime?” she asks.

“I’m not from around here,” he says, pulling at his collar. “Just passing through. Don’t know when I’ll be back again.”

“Right,” she says, and he can see the disappointment in her eyes. “I guess this is goodbye then.”

“Suppose so.”

She wraps her arms tightly around him, and something about the gesture feels even more intimate than what they had been doing in bed less than two hours previous. Regret that he has to leave floods through him. She leans up on her tiptoes and presses her lips gently against his own. “See you around.”

And then he’s watching her walk away, hips swaying salaciously. In his head, he can just about hear John Travolta saying, “I hate to see you go, but I love to watch you leave.” He gazes longingly after her, and it’s only when she disappears around the corner that he turns the opposite direction and begins trudging back to the hotel.

Chapter Text

The next time she sees Alec Hardy is several weeks later, on the television.

She’s at the launderette with her flatmate, Jake, when she flops down onto one of the uncomfortable plastic chairs and sighs with boredom. The old, decrepit dryers don’t work especially well, and more than a half hour later her clothes are still damp. She takes out her phone and tries to browse Facebook, but the signal is so weak that nothing will load and she finally gives up.

“Why are we still coming here? Half the shit is broken or doesn’t work right,” she complains.

“Because this is the only twenty-four hour launderette within walking distance,” Jake replies.

“There’s got to be another one. We’re in bloody London!” she insists.

“So Google it,” he says mildly as he loads towels into a washer.

“I would, but the signal in here is for shit,” she pouts, shoving her phone back into her pocket. She struggles to find a comfortable position on her chair, which she decides was designed by Satan himself. Arms crossed, she slumps back against the hard plastic in defeat. In the corner, a small television plays the news, but the volume is so low that the words are indecipherable. She watches, because there is nothing else to do but wait for the laundry to be done.

And then all of a sudden, there he is. She can’t hear him, of course, but she recognizes those melancholy brown eyes, that thin, stubbled face. Getting up off her chair, she moves closer to the television, but the words are still indistinguishable. The expression on his face though is not. He looks angry. She can just barely read the blurb scrolling along the bottom of the screen: suspect in child murder turns himself in.

Jake looks up from folding his clothes to see her staring at the television, rapt. “What is it?”

Startled by the sound of his voice, she turns to look at him. “Hmm? Oh, nothing. I just thought I recognized that bloke on the news. He looks like someone who came into the pub a few weeks ago.”

Jake glances up at the television. “That guy? Isn’t he the one the Daily Herald named the Worst Cop in Britain?”

“Is he? Why?” Rose asks, raising her eyebrows. She hates to admit it, she doesn’t really keep up with the news. Spending most of her evenings listening to other people’s sob stories and confessions is depressing enough at times, she doesn’t like to go home and to be bombarded by images of the starving, sick, and downtrodden, too.

“Something to do with a botched murder investigation, I think? I don’t know, I just saw the headline in passing when I walked by the news agent’s a couple of weeks ago,” he answers. “To be honest, I only noticed it in the first place because the detective was cute.”

Rose rolls her eyes at that. “Typical.”

Jake shrugs. “You know how I am when it comes to guys with scruff. And he had nice hair. Looked very soft.”

“It was,” she says without thinking.

He gives her a funny look. “How would you know?”

“Because I shagged him,” she replies nonchalantly, enjoying the look of shock on Jake’s face. He’d been encouraging her for weeks to get over Jimmy by having it on with another bloke.

“You shagged the Worst Cop in Britain?!” he exclaims.

“Well, he might be the worst cop in Britain, but he certainly wasn’t the worst lay,” she answers. “Unlike many others, he didn’t need a map and instructions to get to my clitoris.”

“You naughty little thing! I can’t believe you shagged a bloke and didn’t tell me,” Jake says, hands on his hips.

“I shagged him, Jake, it’s not like we’re dating. It was just a one night thing,” she says, picking at her fingernails.

“Only the one night? If I managed to get that into bed, I’d never let him leave!” he declared.

“He was just passing through. I asked to see him again, he told me he wasn’t from around here. It is what it is,” she says with a regretful shrug.

“Oh, I know that look. You’ve got it bad for him,” Jake singsongs.

“I do not. I don’t even know him. There wasn’t exactly a lot of discussion,” she says, irritated.

“So how was the sex?” he asks relentlessly, leaning on his elbows.

“You’re so nosy,” she protests.

“That’s because I haven’t been laid in a while. I have to live vicariously through you,” he says innocently.

“You brought a guy home from the club a week ago,” she points out.

“For me, that is a while.”

“You’re such a slag.”

“You say that like you haven’t known me for years. Anyway, don’t leave me hangin’, how was it?”

“It was fine. I mean...it was good. He was definitely more experienced and attentive than Jimmy ever was,” she says, trying to keep her tone casual. It would be so easy to gush about the morning she spent with the sexy Scottish detective, but she wants to pacify Jake’s questioning, not elicit more.

“Well Jimmy was a needle dick wanker, so that’s not really saying much,” he presses, evidently unsatisfied by her vague description. He’s not going to let her off easy this time.

She sighs, knowing she’s probably going to give in. “It was bloody fantastic. Best I’ve had in a long time.”

“So on a scale from cocktail sausage to Mrs. Wilson’s prize-winning cucumber, how big?” he asks, grinning.

She makes a disgusted face, but still laughs. “What, you think I carry a tape measure around with me that I just bust out the second a guy gets hard? What difference does it make how big?”

“Go on, indulge your old pal Jake,” he coaxes.

“Well, it was definitely bigger than a cocktail sausage, but I don’t think it was quite as big as a cucumber,” she says dryly.

“You’re no fun,” he pouts.

“You say that like you haven’t known me for years,” she fires back. “If you want someone who will kiss and tell, ask Shareen. She definitely gets more action than me anyway.”

Jake sticks his lower lip out at her. “Shareen isn’t here right now. Besides, you always had a flair for the dramatic. You tell better stories. Also, the clothes aren’t even half dry, so you might as well tell me.”

Rose sighs, knowing there’s no use in trying to keep anything from her best mate. She’s not sure why she’s so reluctant to share the details of her little tryst with him, because she usually tells him everything. Why should this be any different? “Fine,” she relents. “He came into the bar one night, and we chatted a bit. He drank scotch, and left me a good tip. But he left his number, too, and he was cute, and I was thinking about what you said, about trying to get over Jimmy, so I called him and we ended up sleeping together. We went out for breakfast afterwards, but he completely clammed up, barely said a word to me the entire time. I asked him if I could see him again, and he got all uncomfortable and told me he wasn’t from around here.”

“Do you still have his number?”

“Yeah, it’s saved in my phone, but I haven’t called or texted him.”

“Well why the hell not?”

“I got the impression that he didn’t want to be contacted,” she answers, just a trace of bitterness in her voice.

“Well, maybe you should,” Jake asserts. “What do you have to lose?”

“Suppose,” she mutters in reply.

“Well go on then. Text him,” he encourages.

“Yeah, but what would I even say?” she asks, not bothering to mask her frustration.

“You could start with hello,” he suggests.

“The signal in here is for shit,” she reiterates as she slips her phone out of her pocket. She doesn’t have to scroll far to get to him in her contacts. Her finger hovers uncertainly over the screen, and she finally taps the little text icon. She types and erases several messages before she finally settles on four words: wish you were here.

She presses send, and waits.

Chapter Text

Her phone buzzes almost immediately: Error: invalid number. Message Not Delivered.

“What’d he say?” Jake asks curiously.

“Nothing,” she replies with barely concealed disappointment. “The message didn’t go through. He must not get texts.”

Jake snorts. “It’s 2013, Rose. My eighty year old grandmother texts. And Facebooks. Did he give you a fake number?”

“No, because the night I went over to his hotel I called him first, and he answered. But he did also say he wasn’t from around here, and it was a London phone number he gave me. Maybe he just gave me his room number instead of his mobile,” she muses.

Jake purses his lips, but says nothing.

“What?” she asks.

“Nothing,” he replies, too quickly.

“What?” she says again, narrowing her eyes at him.

“You said you got the impression he didn’t want to be contacted again. Maybe he was married,” Jake suggests reluctantly.

“He said he was recently divorced, actually. His wife had cheated on him. He seemed real bitter about it, so I didn’t ask any questions.”

“Sounds to me like your handsome detective wasn’t quite over his ex.”

“Perhaps not. But then again, neither am I,” she admits.

“You could always look him up on Facebook,” Jake offers.

“Yeah, but what’d be the point? If he wanted to keep in touch with me, he would’ve given me his real number,” she says, chewing on her fingernails dejectedly. “I was obviously just a rebound. S’okay, it’s not the end of the world. At least the sex was good.”

“I’m sorry boys suck,” Jake says, putting his arm around her shoulders in consolation.

“Eh, who knows? Maybe it’s for the best,” she shrugs. “I’ve got enough baggage for two people already, I don’t need a man with several tons of it himself. I’ve had quite enough of that babysitting Jimmy for as long as I did. I need a bloke who will take care of me for a change.”

Jake nods emphatically in agreement. “Don’t we all?”

* * * * *

Just out of curiosity, she Googles him when they get home from the launderette. Turns out, he’s not the Worst Cop in Britain after all.

His ex-wife is.

The first result that pops up is an article in the Broadchurch Echo, Britain’s Worst Cop Vindicated. She reads the whole sordid tale from start to finish, about how Hardy’s wife had lost vital evidence in a child murder case in Sandbrook when it was stolen from her car while she was at a hotel with her lover. Not wanting their teenaged daughter to know about her mother’s infidelity, Hardy had shouldered the blame and been crucified in the media for it. Now, he’d evidently cracked a different child murder case in a little coastal town called Broadchurch, but was being relieved of duty for personal reasons.

“No wonder he’s so bitter,” she mutters to herself.

* * * * *

Two weeks later…

“According to WebMD, you’re pregnant,” Shareen says without looking up from her laptop. “That, or you have food poisoning and PMS. Or possibly pancreatic cancer.”

“I’m not pregnant,” Rose insists, even as she hangs her head over the toilet, fighting yet another of the sudden waves of nausea that have been overtaking her for the last week. “I can’t be pregnant, I’m on the pill.”

“I hate to break it to you, doll, but women get pregnant on the pill all the time. Nothing is 100% effective, except for abstinence. And that’s boring. Although probably not as boring as having a kid, come to think of it.”

“I’m not pregnant. I take my pill everyday like clockwork. I never miss a dose, and I always take it at the same time. I’ve only had sex once in the last six months, for Pete’s sake! It’s got to be food poisoning.”

“Food poisoning that causes frequent urination, backaches, and sore boobs?” Shareen says doubtfully. “And for the record, once is all it takes.”

“You think I don’t know that?” Rose says, glowering.

“I’m just saying. Look at my cousin Heather. She got pregnant the night she lost her virginity.”

“Heather doesn’t have a baby.”

“No, she doesn’t,” Shareen says meaningfully.

“So I have food poisoning and PMS. Life is rarely convenient, these things happen,” Rose says, though it sounds weak even to her own ears.

Shareen gets up and goes to the bathroom medicine cabinet. She takes a small box off the shelf and sets it on the sink. “Well, there’s one way to settle this. Take a pregnancy test.”

“Why do you have a pregnancy test?” Rose asks, leaning back on her haunches.

Her friend rolls her eyes. “Because I’m easy. I keep them around, just in case. You get a discount when you buy more than one at a time.”

Rose picks up the box, and looks doubtfully at the picture of the smiling woman on the front of it. “She looks way too happy for something as stressful as a pregnancy test.”

“It’s only stressful if you don’t want to be pregnant,” Shareen says, crossing her arms. “Do you?”

“I’ve never given much thought to it, really. Jimmy had no interest in kids, so neither did I,” she answers. “Christ...what if I am pregnant, Shareen? Off a bloody one night stand, no less. My mother will kill me.”

“Take the test,” her friend repeats firmly.

“Okay, okay, fine,” Rose acquiesces, her stomach reeling as she gets to her feet. She hikes her skirt up, and sits on the toilet. “Do you mind?”

“Sorry,” Shareen says sheepishly, turning her back.

She’s so nervous that she can’t go at first, and the silence in the bathroom is deafening until her bladder finally loosens up. She gets pee on her hand, curses, adjusts the test stick and tries again. When she’s sure she’s hit it at least once, she sets the test on the sink and waits, her knees pressed together. “How long does it take?”

“About two minutes.”

She counts the seconds down in her head, and it’s the longest 120 seconds of her life. She reaches for the test, but her hand falters. “I can’t do it. You look.”

“Okay, but no shooting the messenger,” Shareen says, picking up the test. She peers down at the results window and squints.

“Well? What does it say?” Rose asks, and her heart is beating in her chest like a caged bird.

“Uh...yeah, it’s um...it’s not food poisoning,” her friend says, setting the test down on the sink.

Rose grabs it up, wanting to believe that Shareen had read it wrong. Incredulously, she looks at the test window. “It’s just two goddamn smiley faces. That’s not clear at all! What is this, Schrödinger’s pregnancy test?”

“Who?” Shareen asks, confused. “Anyway, I don’t know what a Humdinger is, but you’re definitely pregnant, Rose. That’s why there’s two smiley faces. False negatives sometimes happen, but false positives rarely do.”

“It’s not Humdinger, it’s Schr-you know what, forget it,” Rose says weakly. “I mean, false positives are rare, but rare doesn’t mean impossible.”

“And denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.”

“Well...shit,” she says, slumping against the side of the sink.

Chapter Text

When he answers his door, Becca Fisher is standing outside, looking moderately uncomfortable.

“Can I help you?” he asks. It comes out sounding a lot more rude than he’d intended, and he cringes inwardly. He’s really bad with stuff like this.

“There’s a girl waiting for you. Downstairs in the bar,” Becca says, shifting from foot to foot.

“Reporter?” he demands.

“I don’t think so, no. She said she knew you,” Becca replies, looking off to the side. “Are you going to come down, or shall I tell her to clear off?”

“No, I’ll come down,” he says, stepping outside and shutting the door behind him. “What does she look like?”

“Young. Pretty. Blonde,” she replies, her tone clipped.

For a moment, he wonders if it’s his daughter, but he thinks it unlikely she’d just show up without calling him. Still, a little germ of unease uncurls deep in his gut as he follows Becca back downstairs. When he enters the bar, he sees a woman sitting, her back turned. He can tell from the back of her head that it’s not Daisy-Daisy is strawberry blonde, and this woman’s hair is the color of honey. Something about her seems familiar, and then she turns around.

“Rose?” he says, surprised.

She smiles at him, but it doesn’t touch her eyes. “Sorry to just drop in on you like this, but I couldn’t reach you by phone. I needed to talk to you.”

“About?” he questions, raising his eyebrows.

She clears her throat, and nods her head at Becca, who’s still standing in the doorway. “Perhaps there’s somewhere more private we could go?”

“Oh. Um, sure. Come up to my room?” he says, his sense of unease deepening.

“Lead the way,” she replies, getting up off her stool.

Back up in his room, she sits on the edge of the bed. He can tell she’s nervous about something by the way she’s fidgeting and looking everywhere but at him.

“How did you know where to find me?” he asks, leaning against the door. He has to remind himself that she is not a suspect and this is not an interrogation.

“I saw you on the news, and then I read about the murders in the paper. It wasn’t especially difficult to track you down,” she answers, looking at her feet.

“Is everything okay?” he presses, wanting to get to the bottom of this.

“Not exactly, no,” she croaks, and her shoulders start shaking as she begins to cry.

“Oh, hey, now don’t do that,” he says, mildly alarmed. He sits next to her on the bed, and awkwardly pats her on the back. To his further surprise, she leans against him and cries into his shoulder. Caught off guard, he sits, frozen, as she sags against him.

“I’m sorry,” she sniffles. “It was a three hour drive, and I wound myself up pretty tight.”

“It’s alright,” he says, at a loss for what else to say to comfort the obviously distressed woman.

She takes a deep, shuddering breath, and lays her hand on his knee. “I don’t even know where to start.”

“At the beginning might be a good place,” he suggests.

She nods, and attempts to compose herself. “I just want to say I’m sorry, because I know you didn’t sign up for this.”

“Didn’t sign up for what?”

“Seeing me again. I know you probably didn’t want to.”

“Well, that’s not entirely true,” he says, rubbing the back of his neck. “I just thought you’d be better off if I didn’t. See you again, I mean.”

This time, it’s her turn to ask the questions. “Why would I be better off not seeing you?”

“Because my life is a mess,” he answers. “In more ways than one.”

“Yeah well...me too,” Rose says, her breath hitching in her throat.

Her nervousness is starting to wear off on him, and he’s anxious to know what’s brought her all the way from London to see a sad, broken man. “Rose, what’s wrong?”

She bites her lip, and folds her hands in her lap. “I’m pregnant.”

He stares back at her, uncomprehending. “What?”

“I’m pregnant,” she says again. “And it’s yours.”

The gravity of her words hits him like a ten ton truck, and he inhales sharply. “How? You told me you were on the pill.”

“I am,” she replies. “I mean, I was. The doctor’s not sure exactly what went wrong. He thinks maybe I metabolized the drug too fast, but yeah...I’m pregnant. I’m really sorry. I know this isn’t...ideal.”

“Don’t apologize,” he says faintly, and he can barely hear himself over the ringing in his ears. “I’m the arsehole who invited a girl back to my room and didn’t buy condoms first. Like I was saying...you’re better off without a knob like me. I’m the one who should be sorry.”

“Don’t say that,” she insists. “This isn’t your fault. It’s just a thing that happened. An accident.”

“Are you going to keep it?” he asks bluntly.

“I haven’t decided yet,” she answers, voice wavering. “Thing is...I grew up without a dad. I know what it’s like. And I wouldn’t wish that on a child, especially not my own.”

He struggles to find his courage, to say the things that he knows she needs to hear. “I mean, whatever you want to do, I support your decision. But you don’t have to go at this alone. Not if you don’t want to.”

“No?” she says, sniffling.

“No,” he confirms, taking her hand in his own. “It’s half my fault you’re in this mess. I’m not going to leave you to clean it up by yourself. That wouldn’t be fair. There’s just one thing, though…”

“What’s that?” she asks, tilting her head up to look at him.

“I’m...I’m not quite well,” he says, swallowing. “When I was in London, I was there because I was seeing a cardiologist. He told me if I want to live to see 40, I’ve got to get a pacemaker. And my boss told me I can’t come back to work until I’ve had the surgery. But...there’s a chance I might die on the table. And if I did...well, obviously I wouldn’t be around. To help you.”

Rose quietly absorbs his admission before speaking again, slow and soft. “In for a penny, in for a pound, I suppose.”

“Do you want a baby?” he asks her gently.

“I really don’t know.” she answers. “But I don’t think I could live with myself if I got an abortion, either. I’d always wonder...what could’ve been. I mean, I guess I could have the baby and put it up for adoption...but then I’d still be wondering.”

“Sounds like maybe you’ve answered your own question,” he says, stroking his thumb soothingly along the inside of her wrist.

“What about you? Do you want a baby?” Rose asks, bordering on plaintive.

He shakes his head. “It doesn’t matter what I want. This is a choice that will affect the rest of your life. You have to be the one to make it.”

“I know that. But I’m still asking. Alec, do you want to have a baby? With a complete stranger? With me?”

“I never imagined I’d be a father again. I have a fifteen year old daughter. Daisy,” he says, a hint of wistfulness in his voice. “We don’t really talk so much lately. I made some mistakes, wasn’t the best dad, and I don’t think she’s quite forgiven me for it yet.”

“I read about what you did. Taking the heat for your wife so your daughter wouldn’t think less of her. I think that’s pretty noble of you,” Rose says, squeezing his hand.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“So…,” he says, tentatively spreading his palm against her belly. “I guess we’re going to give this a go then?”

Rose smiles, and this time her tongue pokes its way between her teeth. “Yeah, I suppose we are,” she says, covering his hand with her own.

Chapter Text

Long after Rose has fallen asleep, he is still awake, staring. Staring at the clock, staring at the ceiling, staring at the almost full moon outside the window. Staring anywhere but at the face of the woman who has swept into his life like a gale force wind and left him utterly unsettled. His sense of unease from earlier has only deepened as a litany of doubts and worries parade through his mind. In his head he can hear his ex-wife, her voice full of scorn. “What the hell do you think you’re playing at, Alec? Girls like Rose don’t go for guys like you. She’s only here because she wants something from you. Her fifteen minutes of fame, or money, maybe both. She probably wasn’t even on the pill. She probably got pregnant on purpose to lure you in, and you fell for it. Hell, it might not even be YOUR baby, you have no idea, she could’ve slept with a dozen other men between now and then. And she’s just barely ten years older than your daughter, for shame. Just wait til the press gets wind.

“No, it’s not like that. The whole world isn’t out to get me. Stop it, just stop it,” he hisses angrily to himself, breaking the silence in the room.

Rose stirs and turns over towards him. “You alright?” she murmurs sleepily.

“Fine,” he grunts. “Just a bit restless. Go back to sleep. I’m sorry I woke you.”

“S’okay,” she yawns, nestling against him. “Mmmm...fancy a cuddle? You’re so nice and warm.”

The request catches him off guard, but he drapes his arm over her waist and rests his fingers tentatively against the small of her back. She sighs and snuggles closer, and without thinking, he presses a gentle kiss to the top of her head. The sudden urge to protect Rose and their unborn child is fierce and overwhelming, and unconsciously, he draws her tighter against him. The feeling of her body pressed against his is enough to calm and reassure the voices in his head and finally, he is able to sleep.

* * * * *

“Please just kill me now,” Rose moans into the bowl of the toilet.

“I’m afraid I can’t do that,” he says, holding back her hair. “It’d be considered double homicide. I can go downstairs and get you a ginger ale from the bar, though.”

“Would you please?” she says, lifting her head just slightly.

“Yeah, of course,” he replies, dropping her hair carefully against the back of her neck and tucking it behind her ears. “You stay here, I’ll be right back.”

“Where’m I gonna go, Ipswich?” she asks crossly. Promptly thereafter, she vomits, again.

“Sorry, sorry, I’ll be right back,” he apologizes as he backs out of the bathroom, shutting the door behind him. He hurriedly throws on a shirt and a pair of trousers and walks downstairs. It’s still relatively early in the morning and Becca is sitting at the front desk, her nose buried in a book.

“Hey,” he says uncomfortably, sidling up to the desk.

Becca looks up briefly from her book, a tattered bodice ripper with a Fabio look-a-like on the cover. “Hey,” she replies dismissively.

He plows on anyway. “Sorry to bother you, I know the bar isn’t open yet, but I was wondering if you had any ginger ale? Got a bit of a stomach ache.”

She sighs dramatically, and sets down her book. “So go to the Kwik Save. They sell Pepto-Bismol.”

He blinks, taken aback by her frosty tone. “I’m not supposed to mix that with my heart medicine. Can you just do me the favor and get me a ginger ale? I’ll pay you for it, if that’s what this is about.”

“I bet you will,” she mutters under her breath as she gets up from the desk, leaving him to stand there, bewildered. She returns a moment later with a can of Schweppes. “That’ll be £2.”

“For a single can of ginger ale?” he replies, incredulous.

“£2, or you can go to the Kwik Save,” she answers curtly, banging the soft drink down on the desk.

“What the hell is your problem?” he shoots back, trying to fight off the anger that is starting to rise.

“Oh, like you don’t know!” she spits.

“No, actually, I don’t,” he replies, gritting his teeth.

She glowers back at him. “I may not be the paragon of morality, but I don’t appreciate people calling whores to my hotel. I have a bad reputation, I don’t need the Traders to have one as well.”

“That’s what this is about? You think Rose is a prostitute?” he asks in disbelief. “How desperate do you think I am?”

Becca stares back at him silently.

“How many whores do you know that will spend the night?” he asks her with barely contained fury.

“There’s a price for everything,” she replies nastily.

“She’s not a whore!” he shouts.

“Who’s not a whore?” Ellie asks, walking into the lobby.

Alec whips his head around to look at her. “Miller. What are you doing here?”

Ellie raises her eyebrows at him. “Uh, I’ve been staying here for over a week now, remember? Anyway, who’s not a whore?”

“The woman he took up to his room last night, apparently,” Becca replies before he has a chance to answer.

Ellie’s mouth drops open so far he thinks she might have unhinged her jaw. “You took a woman back to your room last night?”

“Why is that idea so shocking?” he asks, throwing his hands up in exasperation. He tries to will himself to calm down before he has another episode.

“So who’s the lucky lady?” Ellie asks, the corners of her mouth turning up just slightly. Now she’s interested.

He blushes red. “No one. Just a friend from London. It was too late and too far for her to drive back home last night, so I offered to let her stay with me.”

“Did you now?” she replies, her grin widening.

“It’s really not like that,” he insists.

“Oh no, no, no. Of course not,” she says with a perfectly straight face.

He scowls at her. “I’m not having this conversation with you right now.”

“How about later then?” Ellie asks, almost gleeful.

“Miller, just drop it,” he says, taking a £5 note out of his wallet. He throws the money down on the desk in front of Becca and grabs the can of ginger ale.

“Keep the change,” he calls over his shoulder as he stomps away, then mumbles under his breath. “You bloody wench.”

Chapter Text

When he gets back upstairs to his room the bathroom door is still shut and the shower is running. He stands outside, poised to knock and make sure she’s okay, when he hears the soft and unmistakeable sound of crying from inside. His fist hovers above the wood hesitantly, and he finally raps his knuckles against the door. “Rose?”

There is no answer. When he tries the knob, the door is unlocked, and he slips inside the steamy bathroom. He can see her fuzzy outline through the pebbled glass of the shower door-she’s sitting on the floor with her head between her knees. “What’s wrong?” he asks, slightly breathless. His stomach is still churning and his heart pounding with the anger of Becca’s false assumption that Rose was a prostitute. Not to mention the fact that he can probably expect a full-on interrogation from Miller later.

“Nothing. ‘M fine,” she says, her voice shaking.

“I’m a detective. Don’t bother lying to me,” he says gruffly.

The bathroom is silent except for the sound of the water hitting the tiles. “Rose?” he prompts.

“My mum is going to kill me. My whole life, I had it drilled into my head that she didn’t want me to end up like her, that I had to do better. And here I am, pregnant by a guy I don’t even know, unmarried, making barely enough money to afford my share of the rent, no A-levels, no qualifications besides mixing drinks...my life is a bloody disaster!” she sobs. “How the hell am I going to raise a baby?”

He is silent, searching for the right words to say. He doesn’t know how to comfort her, or what to say to reassure her that it was all be okay. He’s not even sure it will be okay. He could die without ever knowing their baby’s name, she could be left to raise the child alone. Finally, softly he says, “What can I do to help?”

She hesitates before answering. “Well..maybe there’s one thing you could do.”

“Name it,” he says immediately.

“Come with me to London? Meet my family, my friends. We’ll tell them you’re my boyfriend. That way, later, when they ask about the baby’s father, I can tell them that they met you,” she answers.

“You haven’t told them yet?” he questions, raising his eyebrows.

“Not yet, no. Only my mate Shareen knows,” she replies quietly. “I have my first ultrasound in two weeks...you think maybe you could come up then?”

“I don’t drive right now. I’m not allowed to because of my heart issues,” he apologizes.

“How do you get around?” she asks.

“Mainly my partner, Miller. Or former partner, I guess,” he says. “We’ve both been relieved of duty for the time being. The former detectives club. Do you want to continue this conversation when you’ve finished your shower?”

She gets up off the floor and turns the water off. Her body is a blur through the textured glass, but his mind remembers her curves and fills in the blanks and with a flush of embarrassment, he feels himself growing aroused. Silently, he curses his traitorous body. Could the timing be any bloody worse?

“Could you throw me a towel?” she asks, and he hastily grabs one off the rack and practically flings it over the shower door at her. He turns his back, closes his eyes, and breathes in slowly through his nose, counting backwards from ten. Now is not the time.

“You alright?” she asks, and he can hear the shower door open and shut before he feels her hand on his shoulder.

“Fine,” he answers. “So...London?”

“I can always drive down, spend the night, and drive back with you to the city in the morning. I’d really like for you to be there. For the ultrasound. I don’t know when I’m going to be ready to tell my family...and I really don’t want to go alone,” she says, and he can hear the tremor in her voice even as he feels her wrapping her arms around him from behind and laying her cheek against his back. “Will you come with me?”

“Yeah,” he says, his throat going dry. “Course I will.”

“You’re a good man, Alec Hardy,” she declares.

He doesn’t have the heart to tell her that she’s wrong.

* * * * *

An hour after their conversation in the bathroom, he stands by the side of her car and hugs her goodbye.

“You’re not getting off that easily,” she says, grabbing him by his lapels and tugging him down to her.

She presses her lips firmly against his own, and when he inhales in surprise she nibbles gently on his bottom lip. His hands drop from her waist to her bum before he can even think about who might be watching them, and he leans into the kiss.

“I’ll see you in two weeks,” she says, cupping his face briefly with her hands.

“Rose...what are we?” he asks, grabbing her wrists.

She smiles sadly. “I wish I knew.”

“Well...we’ve got time to figure it out, haven’t we?” he says, letting her go.

“I suppose so, yeah,” she replies, opening the car door. “Goodbye, Alec.”

He watches her drive away, until her car is just a blue speck on the horizon, before he turns around and walks back inside. The lobby is deserted, thankfully, and he trudges slowly up the stairs to his room. Dismayed but not surprised, he sees Ellie leaning against the door.

“What do you want?” he says wearily, withdrawing his room key from his pocket.

“What do you think? Who’s the mysterious ‘friend’ you were snogging outside?” she demands.

“You saw that, huh?” he says, unlocking the door. “Spying on me?”

“It was hardly spying when all I had to do was look out my window,” she huffs.

“Whatever. Look Miller, it’s complicated. Let’s just leave it at that, okay?” he says, leaning in the open doorway.

“You always shut me out. After everything we’ve been through, you still won’t let me be your friend!” she accuses.

“Miller, trust me...you don’t want to be my friend,” he says soberly.

“You’re right, I don’t, but unfortunately you’re all I have left since most of Broadchurch is shunning me,” she fumes.

“Gee, thanks.”

“Don’t mention it.”

He shoves his hands into his pockets. “Look,” he says uncomfortably. “It’s nothing personal. I’m not trying to keep secrets from you. But it really is complicated. And out of respect for my friend’s privacy..I really can’t talk about it quite yet. That’s how rumors start. The less you know, the better. No one can use knowledge you don’t have against me or you.”

“Fair enough,” Ellie sighs, knowing he’s right. The press has been relentlessly after both of them to speak out after Joe’s arrest. “Would you like to get take away with me and the kids later?”

“Yeah, sure. I’ll see you later,” he says, finally closing the door.

He feels a little guilty for blowing Ellie off, but his thoughts are a mess and he’s afraid of what he might say out loud, before he’s had a chance to sort through it all. He flops onto the bed and stares at the ceiling.

“What the hell have I gotten myself into?” he mutters, to no one in particular.

Chapter Text

It’s the longest two weeks of her life.

She’d sworn Shareen to secrecy about her pregnancy that day in the bathroom, but she was still nervous and on edge and it’s only a matter of time before her boss or someone else calls her out on it. She’s broken two glasses, dropped a few beers, and nearly thrown a cocktail shaker at a customer when it slipped out of her hands. That, and she has to run to the loo every five minutes it seems, either to void her bladder or her stomach. She’s never had a problem keeping up at work before now, but spending every night running around is taking a lot out of her. She’s already fatigued to begin with being pregnant, spending eight hours on her feet every night isn’t helping.

“You sure you’re alright?” the cook, Bob, asks her for the third time that night.

“I’m fine,” she says, and the lie comes easily. He raises his eyebrows, but doesn’t press the issue. The rest of her shift passes without further incident, and it’s with great relief that she unlocks the door to her and Jake’s flat and finds that he isn’t home. She’s purposefully been avoiding him, because she knows he’ll twig on to the fact that something is going on right away. Nobody knows her better than Jake, except maybe for Shareen. Honestly, she’s surprised her friend has managed to keep the secret this long. She’s going to have to tell everyone eventually.

But not quite yet.

In front of the mirror, she stands naked, turning this way and that as she examines her body for outward signs of the life growing within. Everything looks mostly the same as it always has, although her breasts definitely seem to be getting bigger and increasingly more achey and sore. Soon, the rest of her body will follow suit, and then she’ll have no choice but to tell her family and friends the truth. With a heavy sigh, she pulls on her pyjamas and crawls gratefully into bed. Her mobile buzzes, letting her know she has a new text message.

1 New Message From: Alec

How you been feeling, mum?

She can’t help but smile at her phone as she texts him back.

Sore. Tired. Pukey. Pregnant. All I want to do is lay in bed and snuggle. Wish you were here.

A moment later, her phone buzzes again with his answer.

Just a few more days now.

She hesitates before typing her response.

I miss you.

It’s probably only two or three minutes in between when she hits send and when his reply arrives, but it feels like an eternity. With trepidation, she looks down at the phone screen.

I miss you, too. xoxo

She holds her mobile against her chest and grins, her tongue poking its way between her teeth.

* * * * *

She’s in her room, throwing a few things in a rucksack to bring with her to Broadchurch when Jake enters unannounced and flops onto her bed. “You’ve been actively avoiding me. Mind telling me why?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” she says, rifling through a pile of clothes, looking for her favorite pyjama bottoms. “I’ve not been avoiding you. Just been busy, that’s all. It’s almost summer, you know how it gets at the pub. There’s been a lot of call outs.”

“I’ve seen you twice in the last two weeks for maybe a total of ten minutes. You’ve never let work get between us before. You’re definitely avoiding me,” he says, sitting up to look at her. “Something’s going on. Shareen knows, but she won’t tell me. Said it was up to you if you wanted to tell me or not.”

She turns around and opens her dresser so she doesn’t have to face him. “It’s nothing personal Jake, I’ve just been tired. I’ve been sleeping in my spare time. Think maybe I had a stomach bug or something. It’s been going around. I feel better now.”

“So why are you packing a bag, then?” he asks pointedly. “Where are you going?”

“You really want to know?” she says, turning around to look at him. This is the ultimate test. Can she lie to her best mate’s face?

“That’s why I’m asking, innit?” he replies, rolling his eyes.

She waggles her eyebrows at him and smiles. “I’m going down to Broadchurch to see the handsome detective. He’s coming back with me to spend the weekend in London.”

Jake’s mouth forms a perfect O of surprise. “So you did get in touch with him? I thought you’d thrown in the towel on that one after he gave you the wrong number?”

“I may have taken a little roadtrip to see him a few weeks ago,” she says, zippering her bag shut.

“You little minx! So that’s where you disappeared to,” he exclaims. “So what, you just showed up down there unannounced? And he was cool with that?”

“Yep,” she says, popping the ‘p’. “We spent the night together. Guess we’re kinda dating now. He’s coming to mum’s for dinner on Sunday.”

Jake laughs in disbelief. “You’re going to bring a guy you barely know to meet Hurricane Jackie? Are you sure you’re not intentionally trying to scare him away?”

Rose frowns, and snaps a tshirt at him. “Watch it, Simmonds. She’s not that bad. Besides, he’s a cop. I think it’ll take a lot more than my mother to scare him off. Anyway, I figure if I bring him round, she’ll stop asking me all the time if I’m seeing anyone new. It’s starting to get old.”

“So that’s why you’ve been avoiding me. Too busy sexting?” he teases.

“Oh yeah, you know it,” she says dryly, shouldering her bag. “Anyway, I have to get going. It’s a three hour drive as it is, and there will probably be traffic. I’ll be back tomorrow in the afternoon.”

“Alright. Text me when you get in,” he says, kissing her cheek.

“Will do,” she calls over her shoulder, heart still pounding with the adrenaline of her little performance. She’s managed to fool her best mate, now there’s just her family and other friends to contend with.

Chapter Text

When he opens the door she practically flings herself at him. Surprised, he wraps his arms around her and lets her squeeze him tight. She pecks him on the lips and breaks the embrace. “I’m so glad to see you.”

He shuts the door behind her and leans against it. “Aye. You’re a sight for sore eyes yourself. How was the drive?”

“Long. Traffic was a nightmare. Weather is getting warmer, it’s like there was a mass exodus from the city to the coast,” she answers, setting her bag down by the bed and heading for the bathroom. “Sorry, I need the loo, like last week.”

He waits for her on the bed, fidgeting like an anxious teenage boy. The last time a woman made him this nervous, he ended up marrying her. Of course, that hadn’t worked out so well in the end, although he’d gotten a beautiful daughter out of it. He really doesn’t want to think about Tess right now, though.

He’s spared further thoughts of his ex and their failed marriage when Rose emerges from the bathroom and he gets his first good look at her in several weeks, taking his breath away. She’s positively luminous, even more so than the night they first met. Her hair hangs around her in loose waves, framing her youthful face, flushed with healthy color. Her lips are plump and pink, her eyes are bright and sparkling, and she’s wearing a white halter dress with little cherries all over it that flares out at her waist and cuts off just above her knees. The bodice is tight and fitted, and her cleavage is, frankly, spectacular.

“You...you look gorgeous,” he says, swallowing thickly, wondering again what he did to deserve this, to deserve her.

“Thank you,” she beams, setting herself down in his lap and wrapping her arms around his neck.

His heart feels like it’s galloping in his chest as he lays one hand on her knee and wraps the other around her waist. Their faces are only a few inches apart and the urge to capture those ripe, wanton lips with his own is overwhelming. She beats him to it though, leaning up and pressing her mouth firmly against his, swiping her tongue along his lower lip and into his open mouth. She tastes of strawberry lip balm and tea with honey and lemon, and an indescribable flavor that’s uniquely her own, a drug that he is suddenly and hopelessly addicted to. His grip on her waist tightens as she nibbles on his lower lip, and he can’t help but moan into her mouth. He’d had plans, to be a proper gentleman. But then she just had to go and wear that dress.

Before he has the chance to pin her to the bed and unwrap her like a late Christmas present, they are interrupted by a knock at the door. He groans in frustration, but she just laughs. “Yes?” he calls out, not bothering to mask his irritation.

“It’s Ellie.”

“Damnit, Miller,” he mutters under his breath. Rose untangles herself from him, and sits on the edge of the bed, smoothing out the hem of her dress.

“Who’s Ellie?” she whispers.

“My partner. Well, former partner,” he answers, getting up off the bed. He flings the door open. “What?”

Ellie raises her eyebrows, catching an eyeful of Rose sitting on the bed. “Am I interrupting something?”

He thinks about telling her that yes, she is in fact interrupting something, something extremely important, but he also doesn’t want to give her fuel for the fire of her curiosity. He’s been tight-lipped about his relationship with Rose thus far, because he’s still not exactly sure what that relationship is, although Lord knows Miller has been as curious as the proverbial cat.

“Err...no,” he finally answers. “Did you need something?”

“I was going to see if you wanted to join me and the kids for dinner, but it looks like you’re rather occupied. Is this your friend from London?” she asks.

Rose gets up, and comes to stand beside him at the door. “That’s me. Hello, I’m Rose.”

Miller extends her hand, and the two women shake. “Ellie. Ellie Miller. Nice to finally meet you.”

“You been talking about me?” Rose teases him, her tongue poking between her teeth.

“Not at all, actually,” Ellie answers, and he could just about kill her. “You’ve remained quite the mystery. How do you and Alec know each other?”

“Miller, mind your manners. This isn’t an interrogation,” he says gruffly.

“Oh, I don’t mind,” Rose replies, flapping her hand dismissively. “It’s nice to meet some of your other...friends.”

“Did he tell you we were friends?” Ellie asks, and he can see the mirth in her eyes. “Because he usually denies it.”

“He doesn’t talk much about himself or his life at all, actually,” Rose says. “He’s as much a mystery to me as I am to you, I suppose.”

He pulls at his collar, becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the direction the conversation is taking, but not exactly sure how to derail it.

“He’s like an onion, this one,” Ellie says with a laugh. “Lots of layers, smells kind of funny, might make you cry, mostly from boredom.”

“Oi!” he protests. “I am standing right here, if you don’t mind.”

“Yes well, I won’t keep you and your lovely friend any longer,” Ellie says, shooting him a knowing grin. “Maybe next time we can all have a coffee or something.”

“I’d like that,” Rose says with one of her winning smiles. “Nice to meet you, Ellie.”

“And you,” she replies, taking her leave.

Relieved, he shuts the door behind his partner and turns back to look at Rose. “Now, where were we?” he says eagerly, settling his hands on her hips.

“Actually, I am kind of hungry. That’s a refreshing change from the morning sickness. What say you, Hardy? I’m all dressed up with nowhere to go. Fancy a proper dinner date?” she asks, hands on his shoulders.

How am I supposed to say no when you’re giving me doe eyes like that?” he thinks to himself, but what he says is, “Sure. Whatever you like. Suppose we’re well overdue for a real date, seeing as I’m your ‘boyfriend’ now. Baby craving anything tonight?”

“Curry?” she asks, tilting her head.

“Done. You’ll have to drive us, but dinner’s on me,” he offers.

“You don’t have to do that,” she says. “I can pay for myself.”

“I’m sure you can, but I insist. It’d be my pleasure,” he says, shoving his hands in his pockets. “Besides...isn’t that the point of a date? Let me treat you.”

“I wouldn’t know,” she says ruefully. “I’ve always had to pay for myself.”

“Blimey, what kind of boyfriends have you had?” he asks without thinking.

“Bad ones,” she answers, and the tone of her voice makes him regret his callous question.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it like that. I told you I was a knob,” he apologizes, stroking his hands down the bare skin of her arms. “I’m rubbish at all this. Relationships. Been out of circulation for a while.”

“Yeah, me too,” she says, and then laughs. “God, we really don’t know anything about each other.”

“Yeah, but I’d like to change that,” he says, cupping her cheek with his palm. “I want to get to know you, Rose Tyler.”

“Yeah?” she asks, and he can hear the vulnerability clear in her voice.

“Yeah,” he replies, leaning down to kiss her softly on the lips.

She smiles, and tugs him by the hand. “Come on. Let’s get out of here.”

Chapter Text

Snogging and flirting back in Alec’s room had been the easy bit. It’s the awkward silence in the car on the way to the restaurant that Rose is having difficulty with.

Neither one of them, it seems, knows quite what to say to the other, where to start or what questions to begin with. What do you ask the almost stranger who fathered your unborn child? Who his first love was? What’s his medical history (besides the heart problems)? Where does he see himself in five years? Why doesn’t his daughter want to talk to him, and what drove his wife to cheat?

Alec clears his throat and points to a spot a little ways down the road. “It’s just up here, on the left. Place with the blue sign.”

Rose pulls over, into a space just barely big enough for her old beat-up Geo Metro. The street itself looks busy, with people walking up and down the pavement, but the tiny restaurant is nearly deserted. She raises an eyebrow. “You sure about this place? An empty restaurant is usually a bad sign.”

“Trust me,” he replies, unbuckling his seatbelt. “Little hole-in-the-walls always have the best food. Besides, I’ve eaten here before, with my partner. The panang is fantastic. But don’t take my word for it.”

She does trust him, though, for some unexplainable reason, and not just about curry. She laughs. “Alright then, Anthony Bourdain.”

“Who?” he asks.

“You know, the chef. From that show No Reservations?” she says.

He looks back at her blankly as he holds open the door. “I don’t really watch much television.”

She files this tidbit of information away as they step inside the restaurant. The place is so small, she expected the unmistakeable scent of curry to be almost overwhelming, but it smells pleasantly of strong black tea and a mix of other savory aromas. In one corner of the restaurant, apples and oranges are lined up in front of a small jade statue of Buddha. Over the counter hangs a numbered picture menu board, in bright and lurid color. She turns to look at Alec. “Is this a Thai place?”

He chuckles. “What gave it away?”

“I’ve actually never had Thai curry before,” she admits.

Alec scoffs. “You’re from London. How have you never had a Thai curry?”

“Dunno, I just never have. My mum and I rarely had the money to go out when I was growing up, and Jimmy almost never took me anywhere but the pub and the chippy around the corner,” she answers, resisting the impulse to bite her fingernails. Just saying her ex’s name out loud sets her nerves on edge. She’s not long over the man (well, more like boy) himself, but she doesn’t know if she’ll ever quite get over what he did to her.

“Is Jimmy your ex?” he asks.

“Yeah,” she answers, hoping he won’t pursue that particular line of questioning, but knowing that it may eventually become inevitable, at least if they’re going to spend more time together. And she hopes that they will. She doesn’t want to do this whole baby thing alone, like her mother had been forced to when her father very suddenly died in a hit and run car accident six months after she had been born.

“Mutual break-up?” he questions, just as she figured he would.

“Not at all. He left me. At the altar. In several thousand pounds of debt for a wedding that never happened,” she says in a rush. There. Might as well get it out there in the open-if he’s going to meet her friends and family, he has to at least know the bare basics about her relationship with Jimmy Stone.

Alec winces. “Jesus, I’m sorry. What a wanker.”

“Wanker is probably putting it mildly,” she replies, curling her hands into fists.

“Well shit, now I’ve upset you. Guess I’m the wanker,” he says apologetically.

“No, you’re not. Jimmy would’ve run out on me by now. You at least offered to stay.”

“Still, I’m being rude,” he says, shoving his hands in his pockets. “We haven’t even ordered dinner yet, I think the questions can wait until after that. What do you fancy?”

“I don’t even know. What do you recommend?” she asks.

He raises his eyebrows. “Besides the panang? Mild or spicy?”

“I want to say spicy, but I’m going to with whatever is least likely to give me raging heartburn,” she answers, rubbing her chest absentmindedly.

“Probably the massaman, then. It’s the most like an Indian curry, might be a good place to start if you’ve never had Thai before,” he suggests. “You allergic to nuts or anything?”

“The only thing I’m allergic to are arseholes,” she answers dryly.

He laughs. “And yet you’re having dinner with me.”

“Aside from not giving me your actual phone number the first time we met, you haven’t been so bad,” she says, elbowing him teasingly.

“Yeah...sorry about that. Chalk it up to the insecurities of a bitter old man.”

“I’ll let it slide this time, Hardy. But next time…,” she says, wagging her finger at him.

“Consider me suitably chastised,” he says with a look that makes her wish they were still snogging back at his hotel room.

A young woman is standing at the counter, looking at them expectantly. “Are you ready to order?”

“Think so,” Alec replies in his pleasantly thick brogue. “I’ll have the panang, and the lady will have the massaman. Chicken, please. And some water, whenever you get a chance.”

“Eat in or take away?”

“We’ll be eating in tonight,” he answers, sliding his arm around her waist.

“Pick a table. Food will be about fifteen minutes,” the woman says, disappearing into the kitchen.

She lets Alec steer her to the table furthest from the window, where he pulls out her chair for her. “Such a gentleman,” she teases.

“I see you’ve fallen for my cunning ruse,” he says with a wink, taking his own seat.

“I don’t think it’s a ruse at all,” she replies, looking across the table at him with her chin propped up in her hands. “I think that you’re actually a nice guy.”

“I’m really not, you know.”

“I’m still waiting for you to prove me wrong,” she says, and he gives her the barest hint of a smile.

The young woman appears at their table with two glasses and a pitcher of iced water full of sliced lemons, lime and oranges. Wordlessly, she pours them each a drink before disappearing back into the recesses of the kitchen.

“The service is a little bit lacking, but the food is spectacular,” he promises her.

“Enough about the food, tell me about you,” she implores.

“Where do you want me to start?” he replies.

She smiles, and repeats his own words from weeks ago back at him. “At the beginning might be a good place.”

Chapter Text

Rose is looking across the table at him expectantly, and it strikes him then that she’s actually genuinely and sincerely interested in what he has to say. He can’t remember the last time a woman looked at him the way she does. He shifts uncomfortably under the intensity of her gaze. Is this how his suspects feel when he grills them? He shouldn’t be so nervous of saying the wrong thing, and yet he is.

“Alec? You alright?” she asks, concerned.

He clears his throat. “Sorry, yeah. Just thinking. So...the beginning. I’m the middle child of three, and the only boy. My sisters are Aileen and Annabel, but she goes by Annie. My mum, Charlotte, is a school teacher, and my dad, Tristan, is a minister. I was born in Bathgate, but we moved around every four or five years for dad’s job, all over Scotland. Mum and dad are retired now, they own a guest house in Gretna Green. Aileen is a barrister, unmarried. Annie is married to...oh hell, I forget his name. But they have twins, Riley and Brady. And then there’s me. My daughter is Daisy, and my ex-wife is Tess. That’s everyone who’s important I guess. The major players, as it were.”

“That’s your family. Tell me about you. What is Alec Hardy like?” she coaxes.

He’s not sure he even knows anymore. For so long, his life had been defined by being a cop, a husband, and a dad. Now, he was only one of those things. He would always be a father. But him and Daisy are barely on speaking terms, so perhaps he hasn’t always been the best parent, and Tess had made it perfectly clear that he was a shite husband, too. He had let himself become consumed by the job more than once, put his family on the back burner, even before the clusterfuck debacle that was the Sandbrook case. More than once, he had speculated that the affair was merely Tessa’s way of getting back at him for constantly putting their family second to his work. He deserves it all, he supposes, but it has taught him a lesson: the job isn’t worth losing the people he cares about. And though he probably doesn’t deserve a second chance, it seems that god, or the universe or whatever, has granted him one, in the form of Rose of their unborn baby. But he doesn’t think he can say all that out loud. He’s not a superstitious man in the least, but a small, irrational part of himself is afraid that saying some of these things out loud might jinx him and Rose, and whatever this thing between them is turning into.

She’s still looking at him, waiting for an answer. He unbuttons his collar, to give his nervous hands something to do. Shouldn’t their food have arrived by now? Surely it’s been at least fifteen minutes? He glances down at his watch and sees that only eight minutes have passed. What the hell?

He realizes he’s been silent for far too long when he sees the way she’s looking at him. He clears his throat again. “Sorry, sorry. I’m rather boring, actually. I used to run, before my heart condition got worse. Now I do a lot of reading in my spare time. My work used to keep my very busy, and then I had my family. Not anymore, though. My life is...quiet. Except for Miller. She’s rather loud. She’s a good woman though, good detective, good mum. And her boys, Tom and Fred, they’re good kids. Great kids. A nice family, except for that bastard Joe.”

Rose chuckles. “Again, talking about everything but yourself. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were hiding something.”

I’m hiding what an arsehole I am,” he thinks, but doesn’t say out loud. “I’m honestly just old and boring.”

“Now that I don’t believe for a second,” Rose says, reaching across the table and capturing his hand. “I think you’re just the sort of man who puts others before himself. It’s obvious how important to you your family and friends are, that’s all you’ve talked about.”

Of course she doesn’t realize the irony in her statement, how could she? The reality is that he is somewhat emotionally inept and poor at expressing his feelings to those he cares about. Anger is about the only emotion he’s got down pat, and his doctor had told him he needed to work on controlling his rage before he gave himself a heart attack.

He’s temporarily spared from further questioning when the young woman arrives by the side of their table, carrying a tray laden with steaming platters of curry. She sets down the food, refills both of their waters, and disappears again.

“What do you think?” he asks, after Rose has had a chance to taste it.

“It’s good. I really like the coconut milk, actually, it makes it nice and creamy,” she says, mixing her rice in with the rest of the curry. “I wasn’t expecting the potatoes, but I actually like them. Thanks for the suggestion.”

“Of course. Happy to introduce you to the Thai side of curry,” he replies, smiling. The rest of the meal passes by comfortably, and they make small talk over a shared dessert of mango and coconut sorbet. He pays the bill, and they head back to the Trader’s.

“Oh, I love this song!” Rose says, turning up the radio. Happily, she sings along. “Hey boy, won't you take me out tonight? I'm not afraid of all the reasons why we shouldn't try. Hey boy, won't you make me out tonight? I get excited when I think of crawling into your arms…”

Her voice flows over him like honeyed wine, rich and warm, and he can’t help but smile as he watches her singing, her hair flowing around her in the sea breeze coming through the open windows. He can almost imagine that she isn’t just singing along to a favorite song, but singing it to him, and he desperately hopes that later that night, she will indeed be crawling into his arms.

Chapter Text

They’re about five minutes away from the hotel when a sudden storm comes sweeping in, bringing with it what Jake would refer to as “an evil cloud convention”, dark with the promise of spring rain. At the first clap of thunder she hurriedly rolls up the window, and it’s not a moment too soon. Seconds later, the first drops of rain splotch wetly against her windscreen and within a minute the downpour is so heavy that she can’t see the road a foot ahead of her, even with the wipers running at full speed. Nervously, she flicks on her indicator and pulls off to the side of the road to see if the worst of it will shortly pass. Her little Geo Metro is barely shelter from the storm, and the sound of the rain pounding against the metal and glass is absurdly loud. She turns down the radio, and they sit quietly, listening to the storm.

“When my daughter was a young child, I used to tell her that thunder was the sound of angels bowling up in heaven,” Alec says, breaking the silence. “She believed it, for a while, but then one day she asked me why they only ever went bowling in the rain, and at first, I didn’t know what to tell her. I had to think about it.”

“So what did you tell her? Why do angels only go bowling in the rain?” Rose asks, curious as to what his response will be.

“Because when god is sad, bowling is the only thing that cheers him up,” he answers. “When it stops storming, god isn’t sad anymore.”

“So you religious then?” she questions. He didn’t seem the type, but it was hard telling.

“I was, when I was younger. Church of Scotland. Not anymore, though,” he says, not bothering to elaborate on why.

His answer doesn’t surprise her, though. She imagines he’s seen a lot of horrible things as a DI, child murder not being the least of it. Things that could make anyone lose their faith.

“And you?” he asks, and she’s not sure if he genuinely cares or is just trying to be polite.

She ponders how to answer the question. She’s not religious, per say, and she hates the term “spiritual”, but she’s not convinced that they’re alone in the universe, either. “Not really. The only time I’ve ever been to church was for weddings or funerals. But I believe in kindness and karma, love and luck, and the inherent goodness of people. I guess you could say I’m an agnostic.”

“Hmmm,” is all he says in reply, but she can tell by the look on his face that he’s ticking over her response in his head, probably analyzing it the way he would a particularly interesting piece of evidence.

The rain is still battering against the car, but at least now she can kind of see through it. Carefully, she pulls back onto the road and drives the rest of the way to the Traders without further incident. Of course, all the spots nearest to the entrance are already occupied, and they are soaking wet before they can even dash back across the street. It’s a very cool rain for how late in the spring it is, but she can’t help laughing as they splash their way through several giant puddles. Neither one of them looks at the sullen desk clerk as they run through the lobby and back upstairs to his room. She’s still giggling as they stand dripping all over the carpet.

“Normally, I would object to being a drowned rat, although I think it’s worth it to see you smile. I was just going to pop into the shower real quick, warm up a bit. Would you...would you care to join me?” he stammers, his fingers fumbling clumsily over the buttons of his sodden Oxford. She can feel the nervous energy coming off of him in waves, and it makes her own stomach flip flop, though not from morning sickness for a change.

The last time they’d been intimate had been the first and only time, that fateful morning weeks ago when she had gotten pregnant. The night she had told him about the baby they had slept together in the same bed, but nothing had happened, aside from a bit of (mostly) innocent cuddling and kissing. She isn’t sure if it’s hormones, or merely the strange and magnetic attraction she feels for the man in front of her, but a pang of desire shoots straight through her body to her core and before she can over think it, she grabs him by the shoulders and plants her lips firmly against his. He utters a small, surprised squeak into her mouth, but after a moment he settles his hands on her hips and leans into the kiss.

“Can I take that as a yes then?” he mumbles against her lips.

“You’re a detective, what do you think?” she answers back cheekily.

“I think that we’ve wasted enough time talking. You, me, shower, now,” he practically growls, tugging her into the bathroom. Whatever nervousness that had been there earlier has clearly evaporated. He lets go of her to turn on the shower, and she reaches over her shoulder to pull loose the knot in her halter. Alec watches her pull down the tiny little zipper on the side of her bodice and shimmy out of the dress, leaving her in just her pale blue lace knickers.

“As fantastic as that dress looks on you, I think I do like it better on the floor,” he says, grabbing her by the waist and pulling her against him. “Too cliche?”

“Maybe. I think a better question though is why are you still wearing so many clothes?” she replies, unbuttoning his cuffs and the bottom most buttons of his Oxford. She pushes the shirt off his shoulders, and it whispers across his skin before falling to the floor with a soft swish. She reaches for his trousers, but he beats her there, pulling them and his pants down in one smooth motion.

“You were saying?” he says, fingering the waistband of her knickers before he tugs them over her hips and to the floor. He holds the shower door open, and motions for her to step inside. “After you.”

Chapter Text

"My body is like a lightning rod
Capsize me and douse me in your bay
A shiver of want, always
When you are on the tip of my tongue
In the back of your parked car
I could build a fort
And play all day
Between your lips and mine
Let's stay here forever."
-M83, “Reunion”

* * * * *

Underneath the steaming spray of the shower he snogs her with far more confidence than he actually feels, wrapping his arms around her waist and bringing their bodies into close proximity. She molds her body tightly to his, pressing her breasts against his chest and wrapping her arms around his neck, never breaking the kiss. It’s like she can’t get close enough to him, that mere skin to skin contact is not quite enough, she wants to crawl inside and live in his stubborn old broken heart. The press of her lips against his own is far more telling than any of their casual conversations. He wants to believe that there is more than just lust behind her kiss, that she feels the same magnetic pull to him that he feels to her. Though they are barely more than acquaintances, kissing her feels like coming home-soft, warm, and familiar. Comforting. Perfect. For almost a moment, he feels like a young man again.

Never mind his heart, Rose is apparently already in comfortable residence inside his mind, where he suspects she’s been since that night they first met. Admittedly, he had spent the weeks after their encounter reliving those moments when his mind would wander. And God knows she’s been constantly on his mind in the past few weeks, ever since the night she had told him she was pregnant. He still knows so little about her, except that their bodies seem to communicate so much better, so much more clearly, when they are talking with something other than words spoken from lips.

Desperately, he pushes her back against the tile wall and nestles his head into the gap between her jaw and shoulder. He nuzzles against the skin there, nipping softly with his teeth, sucking firmly but gently until the delicate skin of her throat just begins to bruise and she is gasping and squirming. He knows he has no rights to her, but he still feels an absurd urge to mark her body and claim her as his own.

Her knees buckle, and he catches her as she falls, hugging her against him. “Maybe now that we’ve warmed up a bit, we should move this to the bedroom? Before one or both of us falls through the bloody glass door, knowing my luck.”

She clings tightly to him and chuckles into his ear. “Alright. Perhaps you’ve a point. Shagging in the shower is a lot less practical than the movies would make it out to be.”

“Have you got your feet back?” he asks, still holding her waist as an anchor.

“Think so, for the moment,” she answers.

Reluctantly, he lets her go long enough to turn off the water before resuming his grip on her waist. Her ushers her carefully out of the shower, and offers her a clean towel for her hair before toweling himself mostly dry. Both of them are seemingly overtaken by a sudden shyness, as they linger awkwardly in the bathroom before finally moving to the bed. They lie naked and facing each other, but not touching, and he studies her in the dim light cast by the lamp on his bedside table.

Tonight, her eyes look more like dark amber than honey, and her lips are bruised red from kissing. Her body is just a bit softer and rounder than last time, though the changes are so slight they’d likely be imperceptible to someone with a less trained eye. Still beautiful, though, certainly too pretty for a daft-looking old man like himself. Once again, he can’t help but wonder what she sees in him, whether under different circumstances she would still choose to be with him if they weren’t inextricably tied together by the life they had unintentionally created.

“What are you thinking about?” she asks.

“How beautiful you look,” he replies, and that’s at least half of the truth. No need to put his silly little insecurities out there.

“You think so?” she answers uncertainly.

He leans forward to close the gap between them and kisses her firmly on the mouth. “I do. Now, where were we?”

He doesn’t wait for an answer before he begins to trail kisses across her collarbones and down the valley between her breasts. He gently thumbs her nipples, delighting in the way it makes her shiver underneath him. His hands skate down her sides to rest lightly on her hips, and he looks up at her hesitantly. She’s staring down at him, eyes dark and lips just slightly parted in anticipation. He bends down and places a single kiss to the taut expanse of belly just above her navel. “Hello,” he whispers reverently against her skin.

Placing his hands on her knees, he parts her legs and nuzzles at the apex of her thighs. His tongue slips easily along her already slick folds to circle around her clit, and she moans softly in approval. Gently, teasingly, he licks and suckles at the little nub until it’s dusky and swollen and Rose is thrashing against the sheets. He slides two fingers inside her and curls them in a come hither gesture, his lips still fastened tightly around her clit. He doesn’t relent until she cries out and begins to shudder underneath him.

“Please Alec, I need you,” she gasps, raking her hands through his hair and tugging him upwards.

He crawls back up her body and she kisses him, eager and needy, her hands sliding up along his spine to fist into the hair at the nape of his neck. He reaches between them to position himself at her entrance, and he slides into her welcoming heat with a contented sigh. Slow and leisurely, he begins to move within her, settling into a steady but unhurried pace. He’s not trying to rush straight towards climax-he wants to savor this moment with her, and make it last as long as possible, just in case it does turn out that he and his faulty heart are on borrowed time. He’d thought for sure their first time would be the only time, and this feels like a gift, an opportunity that can’t and shouldn’t be squandered. With renewed passion, he kisses her firmly on the mouth and quickens his pace. Like two puzzle pieces, their bodies seem to fit so perfectly together, and he soon feels his pulse increase as tension coils low in his belly. He squeezes his eyes shut, grits his teeth, and comes with a ragged gasp. When his heartbeat finally slows, he rolls off of her and onto his back. She wastes no time curling against him, resting her head on his chest.

“I could get used to this,” she murmurs sleepily.

“Yeah?” he asks, his heart skipping a beat.

“Yeah,” she replies with a happy sigh.

Chapter Text

Rose shoots him a sidelong glance from the driver’s seat. “You seem anxious. You’ve been fidgeting since we left Broadchurch, and we’ve only been on the road for twenty minutes.”

“I am anxious,” he says, turning away from the window to look at her. “In a few hours, we’re going to see our baby for the first time. Tomorrow, I’m going to have to pretend to be your boyfriend in front of all your family and friends and I still barely know anything about you. Aren’t you a little bit anxious about all that?”

“I wouldn’t worry about my family. They’re not going to quiz you about me, they’ll probably be more interested in you and what you do, how we met, how long have we been dating. You know, stuff like that,” she replies.

“And what I should I tell them?” he asks. “About how we met and what not?”

She shrugs. “The truth, or at least half of it. We met at the pub, we’ve been casually dating for a few weeks, but just casually because we live three hours apart. They won’t expect you to know my life story. Honestly, I imagine most of them will want to ask you about the murders, but don’t feel obligated to answer them.”

“Oh believe me, I’m good at deflection,” he answers dryly. “Gotten quite adept at it, especially over the last year.”

“So then what are you worried about?” she questions, cocking one eyebrow.

He rubs the back of his neck, one of his many nervous habits. “I just feel like I ought to know more about you. We talked mostly about me at dinner last night, you hardly said anything about yourself.”

“We talked about your family at dinner last night, not so much about you,” she points out. “But what did you want to know?”

He considers this. He knows the sort of questions he would ask her if she were a suspect, but they are hardly appropriate for what is supposedly just a casual conversation between two people who are barely more than acquaintances. But he wants them to be so much more than just that. He wants to know Rose Tyler inside and out, intimately, the way he had once known the woman who used to be his wife, before they became strangers to each other. He wants the sort of relationship that takes time to build, and it makes him desperate to think that he might not have that kind of time. With his faulty heart, he can only take it one day at a time.

“Oh, I don’t know,” he finally answers. “Just about you. Like your middle name, or your favorite color, what you wanted to be when you grew up? Stuff like that.”

“Well that’s easy,” she says with a smile. “Marion, blue, a princess. How about you?”

“Middle name’s James, after my grandfather, favorite color is also blue, and I used to want to be a doctor,” he replies.

“So how’d you end up a cop instead?” she asks curiously.

“I couldn’t get into medical school. I knew I wanted to help people, though, so being a cop was sort of the next logical choice,” he says. “That, and my name does mean defender of mankind. Sort of fitting that I ended up a detective.”

“Hmm. In that case, perhaps I should’ve become a florist,” she teases, her tongue poking between her teeth.

Having managed to break the ice, the rest of the drive passes by easily enough, the two of them trading questions and answers about silly, inconsequential things, like their favorite movies, the words they hate the most, whether or not elbow or shaped macaroni tastes better. She tells him about her friends and family, her mother Jackie, her cousin Mo, her flatmate and best friend Jake. He’s just finally starting to feel comfortable when they pull up outside the hospital, and then his nerves return full force as he considers the reality of their situation.

“Are you ready to do this?” Rose asks, her hands still resting on the steering wheel.

“As ready as I’ll ever be, I suppose,” he says, not caring if it sounds cliched.

On the walk up to the entrance, he hesitantly reaches out for her hand, and feels a cascade of relief wash over him when she laces her fingers through his own. He only lets go of her so she can check in with the nurse at reception. Once they’ve joined the rest of the patients in the waiting area, they sit with their clasped hands resting on her left thigh. He can’t help but think that they must look like a proper couple to the strangers sitting around them, and how much he wishes that actually were the case. None the less, the skin to skin contact grounds him, and he’s slightly less anxious by the time they call her name twenty minutes later. Still, he finds himself holding his breath as he watches the sonographer move the probe across Rose’s abdomen.

“There we are, mum and dad, there’s your baby,” the sonographer says, gesturing to a small, but distinct shape on the black and white monitor.

He swallows the lump in his throat as Rose’s fingers tighten around his. There on the screen is indisputable proof of the life they created together, its heart beating like a dozen galloping horses.

“It’s so fast,” Rose marvels in awe.

“That’s normal at this stage of pregnancy,” the sonographer assures her. “You’re about, say nine weeks along now, which puts your due date around the end of December, sometime between Christmas and New Year’s. A holiday baby.”

The sonographer keeps talking, but the words go in one ear and out the other as his own heart rate increase, mirroring the baby’s. The longer he stares at the image on the screen, the tighter his chest becomes.

“Excuse me,” he mumbles apologetically, bolting from the room and out into the hallway. He knows he shouldn’t be using his mobile in a hospital, but he pulls it out of his pocket and dials his cardiologist’s personal number. It rings a few times before connecting, and he doesn’t even wait for a hello before he blurts out, “I’ve decided to get the pacemaker.”

“Why the sudden change of heart?” his doctor asks, chuckling at his own turn of phrase.

“I’m having a baby. Well, not me. A woman. A woman is having a baby, but it’s mine,” he answers, stumbling over the words. “So I need the surgery, as soon as possible.”

“Congratulations. I don’t have an opening for surgery though for at least a couple of weeks.”

“Yes well, I’ve gone this long, hopefully a few more weeks won’t kill me.”

“You’re making the right decision, Alec.”

“I hope you’re right,” he says grimly, ending the call. He walks back into the exam room, where Rose and the sonographer are still chatting.

“Everything alright?” she asks him with raised eyebrows.

“It will be,” he says, squeezing her hand.

Chapter Text

“What was that back there?” she asks him once they’re back in the car on the way to her flat. “Why’d you run out of the room like that? You’re having second thoughts about all this, aren’t you?”

“No, it’s not that at all,” he replies defensively. “I was calling my cardiologist, to tell him I’ve decided to go on ahead and get the pacemaker.”

“And you had to do it right then?” she presses, uncertainty churning through her guts.

“Yes, I did,” he says seriously. “Because I’ve wasted enough time already, and I can’t afford to waste any more. I want to be here to raise this baby. If this is my second chance, than I’m not going to squander it. The doctor told me I won’t live to see 40 if I don’t get the procedure done, this is the only viable option, Rose.”

“So you haven’t changed your mind then?” she asks to placate her own insecurity.

“I haven’t changed my mind,” he reassures her with a gentle squeeze to the thigh. “If anything, I’m more certain now that I want to do this with you than I was before. Seeing our baby...that made it all real for me.”

“Yeah,” she sighs in relief. “Yeah, me too. I mean, I had my mind just about made up anyway, but seeing our baby...I could never give it away. I already love him or her so much. I know we didn’t plan this, but maybe it was meant to be, as silly as that might sound.”

“I don’t know that I believe in fate, but I do know this,” he says with conviction. “I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

She finds herself unable to contain the grin that’s spreading across her face.

* * * * *

“Alright, so I told Jake we were dating, but I haven’t told him about the baby yet. He knows something is up, though,” she warns him as they climb the stairs to her flat. The lift, as per usual, is out of service.

“Were you planning on telling him?” Alec asks, bringing up the rear.

“I was going to tell him today, actually. He’s my best mate, I already feel bad enough for keeping it from him for as long as I have. It’ll be a relief to get it off my chest and stop pretending around him,” she confesses.

“Are you going to tell him the whole truth, or just the half truth?” he questions.

“I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.”

“Are you quite sure he’s not going to want to kill me when he finds out?”

“Jake’s not the one you need to worry about. That’s my mum, and I have no intentions of telling her I’m pregnant quite yet.”

She unlocks the door to the flat and ushers him inside. “Jake? You home?” she calls out.

“In the kitchen!” he calls back to her.

She takes a deep breath, and looks at Alec. “He’s probably going to go mental when he finds out, just to warm you.”

“Your best mate, I’d expect so,” he replies.

“Here we go,” she mutters, mostly to herself as they step into the kitchen. “So Jake, this is Alec. Alec, Jake.”

“Cheers,” Jake says, offering Alec his hand. “Nice to finally meet you. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

“Have you?” Alec asks, glancing between her and Jake.

“Nah, not really, she’s been rather secretive about you.. But good things. I’ve heard good things about you,” he says, drying his hands on a kitchen towel.

“Ah. I hope you’ll remember them,” he replies, giving her hand a squeeze.

Jake cocks his head quizzically. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Well...I haven’t been entirely honest with you about me and Alec,” she says, gathering her courage.

“Okay?” Jake prompts, waving his hand to indicate she should continue.

“Give a girl a break, this isn’t exactly easy,” she snaps crossly.

“Alright, sorry,” he says, holding his hands up in supplication. “Take your time.”

She fiddles with the hem of her tshirt to avoid looking him directly in the eye. “The night Alec and I met, we slept together, and unbeknownst to either one of us, my birth control failed. I'm pregnant, and it's his."

Jake stares back at her, and his lips slowly part to form a perfect O. “Damnit, I owe Mickey ten quid.”

“Seriously?” she asks, incredulous. “You two had a bet going on whether or not I was pregnant?”

Jake at least has the good graces to look mildly ashamed. “Well, not exactly. Okay, maybe kinda. A little bit. Shareen wouldn’t tell either one of us what was going on with you, so we just started making ridiculous guesses, and that was one of his.”

“Am I so predictable then?” she says frostily, crossing her arms in front of her chest.

“No, of course not. I shouldn’t have even said anything about it, it was stupid. I’m sorry,” he apologizes, taking her by the shoulders. “So, you and your handsome detective are having a baby then, huh? Congratulations are in order, I guess. Have you told your mum yet?”

“Do you think I’m crazy? Of course I haven’t told her yet. And I’m not going to, not for a little bit, anyway,” she answers.

“So wait...are you two actually dating then?” Jake asks, confused.

Rose looks at Alec, who shrugs subtly, then back at Jake. “Err...not exactly. I mean, I don’t know. Maybe? It’s complicated.”

Alec chuckles. “Complicated is a bit of an understatement, I think.”

“So you’re having a baby together, but you’re not actually together?” Jake attempts to clarify.

“I suppose that depends on what you mean by together,” Alec says, shoving his hands in his pockets.

Jake rolls his eyes. “What do you think I meant? Together in a romantic way, you sod.”

Alec stiffens. “That’s really up to Rose at this point.”

“Listen,” she interjects. “The distinction is not important. This whole thing is new for both of us, I don’t think either one of us cares to categorize what it is, not yet. But my mum will go mental if I tell her I got pregnant from a one night stand, so I’m going to tell her we’re dating and let her get used to the idea before I drop the baby bomb. So this stays between us, understand?”

“Like you even have to ask,” he says dismissively. “So who all knows then? Is it just us three and Shareen?”

“For now, and I’d like to keep it that way.”

“How far along are you?”

“Only nine weeks. I probably won’t start showing for at least another two or three months, I hope.”

“Well, your secret’s safe with me,” he declares, eying the two of them up. “And this way I don’t end up owing Micks a tenner.”

“Charming,” Alec says dryly.

Jake makes an obscene gesture in response, and Rose shoots him a dirty look. “How old are you?”

“Not old enough, apparently,” he says, sashaying back to the stove to check on the food.

“So that went better than I thought it would,” Alec whispers into her ear.

“Suppose,” she murmurs back. “The hard part comes tomorrow. Lying to my mum.”

He slides his arm around her waist and draws her in. “We got this.”

She hopes he’s right.

Chapter Text

Alec excuses himself to turn down for the night a little after 10pm.

“I’ll be in soon,” she promises.

“Oh, take your time. I’m sure you and Jake have catching up to do,” he says. shoving his hands in his pockets.

She nods, trying and failing at tamping down her anxiety. Her and Jake haven’t been alone since she told him the truth about her and Alec. “Really, I won’t be long. But make yourself at home in the meantime.”

“Right, I will. Goodnight, Jake. Rose, I’ll see you later,” he says before disappearing down the hallway.

After they hear her bedroom door open and close, Jake turns to look at her.

“You lied to me about what was going on, but you told Shareen. What the hell, Rose?”

“I know, I know,” she says, hiding her face behind her hands. “I’m sorry. It was nothing personal. I didn’t want anyone to know, including Shareen, but she was the one who made me take the pregnancy test in the first place, so it wasn’t like I could hide the results from her. I made her swear not to tell anyone, not until I knew what I was doing for sure.”

“And now you do?” he asks. “Know what you’re doing, I mean.”

“Well yeah. I’m going to have the baby,” she answers.

“So what made up your mind?” he questions, leaning forward with his elbows resting on his knees.

“I had my first ultrasound today. It was so small, but its heartbeat was so loud. Seeing the baby, hearing its heartbeat...I could never give that up, Jake. Even if Alec decides not to stick around, I’m going to have this baby,” she says, unconsciously dropping her hands to cradle her belly.

“You’re absolutely sure?”

“I’m sure.”

“Blimey,” Jake says, whistling through his teeth. “Well no wonder you don’t want to tell Jackie. I don’t blame you, she’s going to flip.”

“Tell me about it. After having her drill it into my head for years that she didn’t want me to end up like her...here I am. Pregnant, not exactly with the father, who is probably only sticking around out of some misplaced sense of duty anyway, and it’s only a matter of time before he decides it’s not worth it,” she laments.

“I don’t get that impression about the detective at all, though. It’s pretty obvious that he’s smitten with you,” Jake asserts.

Rose shakes her head. “Even if he were, which I don’t know that he is, all my mum is going to see are the parallels between me and Alec and what happened to her and my dad. She’s going to assume it’s the same thing all over again, and she’s going to be so hurt and disappointed.”

“Yeah, but you can’t live your life so to assuage your mum’s guilt over what happened to Pete. If you want this baby, you should have it. Jackie might be upset at first, but let’s be real, she’s going to be totally thrilled to finally be a grandma and relieved that it isn’t bloody Jimmy Stone’s baby,” he points out.

“Thank fucking God it wasn’t Jimmy,” she swears. “But yeah, you’re probably right...mum will be more happy than angry, I hope. But I’m still not quite ready to tell her. I’m sure about the baby, but I’m not sure about me and Alec, not yet. We’re still feeling each other out.”

“Fair enough. I hope your handsome detective is a good actor, though. It’s going to take quite a performance to fool Jackie,” he warns.

“Yeah, I know,” she says, exhaling nervously. “But I think it’ll be okay. He’s a cop, I’m sure he’s got a good poker face.”

“Right. Well, you’ve got a handsome bloke waiting for you in bed, maybe you should go join him. Just keep it down, please. I need my beauty sleep,” Jake says, patting her on the shoulder.

“You’re the worst,” she says, but it’s with a laugh. She’s glad he’s not mad at her for keeping secrets from him.

“G’night, Rosie.”

“G’night, Jakey.”

* * * * *

She wakes up in bed alone, the sun streaming through the window, painting a warm swath of light across her face. The bathroom door is shut and the water is running-probably Alec washing up. She yawns and stretches before nestling back into her pillows. She’s not ready to get up, not quite yet, not when her bed is so soft and warm. Maybe if she’s lucky, he’ll slip back into bed with her. She’s just about to drop off to sleep when the sound of the bathroom door opening and shutting stirs her back into wakefulness. The bed dips and the covers shift as he climbs in next to her.

“Well hello th-,” she says, turning to look at him. The greeting dies on her lips when she catches sight of him. “What happened to your face?”

“Yeah, that’s not exactly the reaction I was hoping for,” he says wryly.

“You shaved,” she says unnecessarily, reaching out to press her palm to the side of his now smooth face. She had never noticed it underneath the stubble, but he has a light smattering of freckles across each cheek.

Yum.

“You don’t like it, do you?” he asks, cringing.

“No, no, it’s not that at all. It’s just...wow. You look so different,” she says, biting her lip.

“Good different or bad different?”

“Just different. Younger. Why’d you shave anyway?”

“Well I didn’t want to meet your mum looking like Grizzly Adams. I want to try and make a good impression now, so hopefully she won’t end up hating me as much later, when she finds out I helped deliberately conceal the fact that I knocked up her only daughter,” he says matter of factly.

“We’re not deliberately concealing it, we’re just not going to mention it.”

“A lie by omission is still a lie, Rose.”

“I thought you were okay with this,” she says defensively.

“I am okay with it. I told you I’d support whatever decision you made. It’s just that as a parent, I can imagine how your mum might feel when she finds out we both lied to her,” he replies.

“I can’t worry about that right now. At the end of the day, it’s my life, not hers. I have to do what’s best for me. For us.”

“So is that it then? We’re an us now?” he asks, smiling.

She chuckles. “Have you no idea that you’re in deep? I dreamt about you nearly every night this week. Did you forget that the morning after we met, I asked to see you again? You were the one who shot me down.”

“And I spent almost every day after that regretting it. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

“I suppose it all worked out in th-”

He presses his finger to her lips. “I’m sorry to interrupt. It’s just...I’m constantly on the cusp of trying to kiss you.”

She swallows. “Well, don’t wait for a written invitation.”

His mouth presses warmly against her own as his fingers skate slowly down her spine to rest just above her bum. She shivers and sighs, melting bonelessly against him, deepening the kiss. Her hands are trapped between their bodies, and all she can do is scratch lightly at his bare chest with her fingernails.

“I don’t know if you feel the same as I do,” he murmurs softly against her lips. “But...we could be together. If you wanted to.”

Her stomach flip flops. “Like a proper couple?”

“Well, yes. I mean..only if you want to,” he says uncertainly. “It’s just...I really do like you, Rose. I’d like to give this a go. I think we owe it to our baby to at least try. I don’t want to fake being a couple when we could just be the real thing.”

She smiles. “I’d like that too.”

He grins, and kisses her. “If I’d known all I had to do to get you to agree to be my girlfriend was shave, I would’ve done it weeks ago.”

She laughs, and smacks him playfully. “Hey, I liked the scruff. But smooth is good too. Less like kissing a cactus.”

“Surprisingly enough, you’re not the first woman to compare me to a spiny desert succulent.”

She smiles devilishly. “Well, they got the succulent part right.”

Chapter Text

They’re standing in the hallway in front of the door to Jackie Tyler’s flat, listening to the music and chatter coming from inside. Rose has had her fist poised and ready to knock for nearly a minute now. Something though is making her hesitate.

“You look as anxious as I feel. You worried I’m going to embarrass you in front of your family?” he asks, not unkindly. He wouldn’t blame her if she was. He finds himself embarrassing rather often.

“No, it’s not that at all,” she answers quickly. “Quite the opposite. I’m worried my family is going to embarrass the hell out of me and send you running for the hills.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” he says, giving her other hand a reassuring squeeze. “Promise. We’re in this together now.”

“I know,” she says, taking a deep breath and steeling herself. Finally, she lightly raps her knuckles against the door four times in rapid succession.

“Door’s open!” someone shouts from inside.

Rose glances over at him and smiles weakly. “Here we go,” she says, turning the knob and pushing the door open.

Inside the flat, a party appears to be in full swing. David Bowie’s “Changes” is blaring from the stereo, and people are milling around the living room with drinks in their hands, laughing and chatting.

“This is Sunday dinner?” he asks, raising his eyebrows. It looks more like a college rager. “Is it always like this?”

“Pretty much, yeah,” she says apologetically. “Any excuse for a party.”

“Rose!” a woman shouts from across the room, waving. She threads her way through the crowd, her drink tipping precariously as she walks. “You made it for once! That boss of yours actually gave you a Sunday off?”

“Yeah, the bar’s closed this week. Someone clogged the only toilet and flooded the loo,” Rose answers, raising her voice slightly to be heard over the din. “We’ll be open again after the weekend.”

“So who’s your friend here?” the woman asks, eying him up in a way that makes him feel vaguely uncomfortable.

“Ah, this is my boyfriend. Alec, this is my cousin Mo. Mo, this is Alec,” Rose introduces them.

“Boyfriend?” Mo replies, her eyes sparkling mischievously. “Your mum didn’t mention you were seeing anyone new.”

“That’s because I haven’t told her yet,” Rose replies uncomfortably. “Where is she, anyway?”

Mo tuts disapprovingly. “Shame on you, keeping your handsome gentleman a secret. Anyway, Jackie’s been in the kitchen all day. She’s trying out some new recipes she found on Pinterest. Only set the smoke alarm off once so far, so I’d say it’s going pretty well.”

“Great, thanks,” Rose says abruptly, grabbing his elbow and propelling him forward.

“Uh, nice to meet you,” he calls back over his shoulder, but the other woman has already turned away to talk to someone else. He lets Rose guide him through the mileu and into the postage stamp sized kitchen, where the sink is piled high with dishes and a blonde woman is hunched and cursing over an open oven.

“Hey mum,” Rose says, and the woman turns to look at them.

“Rose!” she exclaims, shutting the oven before pulling her daughter into a tight hug. “I don’t know why you even have that bloody phone, you never use it! I haven’t talked to you in weeks!”

“Sorry. Just been busy, y’know?” she apologizes, letting her mother squeeze her tight.

Jackie spots him, standing uncomfortably in the doorway. “Now who’s this?” she asks, pulling back from Rose.

“Mum, this is Alec,” she says, reaching out for his hand. “My boyfriend.”

“Boyfriend? Does that mean you’ve finally finished wallowing over that no-account wanker Jimmy Stone?” she questions with a hopeful tone.

Rose rolls her eyes. “Honestly, mum. After what he did to me, I don’t think wallowing a bit was an overreaction.”

“No sorry, of course I didn’t mean it like that, sweetheart. I’m happy for you. Jackie Tyler,” the woman says, extending her hand to him.

“Alec Hardy,” he replies, accepting her hand. They shake briefly as they size each other up.

“Alec Hardy. Don’t know why, but that name sounds familiar,” Jackie ponders. “I’m sure I’ve heard it before somewhere.”

He knows there’s no point in trying to hide his identity, not when she’s already half recognized him. “I was lead detective on a highly publicized child murder case. I’m sure my name was mentioned in connection to it more than once in the news.”

Realization dawns in her eyes. “Tiny town off the coast of Dorset, yeah?”

“Aye, Broadchurch,” he confirms.

“That’s the one!” Jackie says, clapping her hands. “But that’s hours away from here. How do you know my Rose?”

He can feel the back of his neck growing hot. It’s a simple question with a simple answer, but he still feels anxious and put on the spot. “Ah, we met at the pub. I was in town to see my doctor, it was just a lucky chance meeting. Rose is rather charming, we hit it off right away.”

“Seeing your doctor, eh? You’re not sick, are you?” Jackie asks with concern, evidently ignoring the dirty look Rose is shooting her.

“I have a heart condition, but it’s being managed,” he says, and that’s the first actual lie he’s told her. If he were actually managing his heart problems, he wouldn’t have been relieved of duty, but there’s no sense in telling Jackie Tyler that. Soon enough, it will hopefully no longer be an issue.

“So what are you making?” Rose cuts in before Jackie has a chance to ask him any follow up questions.

“Well, it’s supposed to be enchiladas, if I didn’t manage to cock it up. Howard made margaritas, I thought it’d be appropriate. Speaking of, can I get either of you a drink?” she offers.

“No thanks,” they answer in unison before they both start laughing, breaking the tension in the room.

Jackie raises her eyebrows and smiles knowingly. “Already on the same wavelength, I see. How long did you say you’ve been dating?”

“Just a few weeks,” Rose answers. “We don’t see each other very often because of the distance, but we’re making it work. Anyway, we’ll let you get back to cooking. I’m going to introduce Alec to the rest of the gang.”

“Don’t think you’re getting off that easy, missy. You haven’t called me in over a month! We’ll have to catch up, after you’ve made the rounds,” Jackie says sternly, snapping a kitchen towel at her as they exit the kitchen. “And I want to know more about this new bloke of yours.”

“Yeah, of course,” she says over her shoulder, ushering them out of the kitchen.

“She’s not so bad,” he says to her, once they’re out of Jackie’s earshot. “I was expecting worse. A bit nosey, but I’d expect that from any mum whose daughter was bringing a man home for the first time.”

Rose snorts. “That was nothing. You’ve never seen her when she’s fired up about something. Pray that you never do.”

“Yeah, but that’s most people, though,” he says conversationally. “Everyone has a breaking point.”

“Suppose so.”

Rose introduces him to her other cousins, a few aunts and uncles, and some neighbours before she excuses herself to the loo, leaving him to stand uncomfortably against the wall. Everyone has been friendly, for the most part, but he still feels like an outsider. That’s nothing new for him, though, and he’s quite used to it.

“Excuse me? Could I trouble you for a moment?”

He’s startled out of his thoughts by the woman standing in front of him. She’s young, probably around Rose’s age, with dark hair and smooth, pale skin. She looks overwhelmed and harried, though. Cradled in her arms is an infant, swaddled in pastel pink.

“Sorry to bother you, it’s just I noticed you had your hands free. Could you just hold her for a moment? I left my mobile out in the car and I need to call my boyfriend,” the woman asks.

“Oh, um, I don’t know, I don’t think-” he says, but she’s already passing the baby to him.

“Thanks, I’ll just be a mo!” she says, darting away before he has a chance to protest.

He can’t remember the last time he held a baby, other than Ellie’s son Fred. This girl is much younger, though, only a few months old at the most. She smells like baby powder and lavender, and he’s reminded of when Daisy was still a baby. His heart clenches painfully in his chest, and he holds the infant closer. The thought that he might not live to do this with his and Rose’s baby is paralyzing. Damnit, why had he been so cavalier and careless about his health? Why hadn’t he taken better care of himself?

In his arms, the baby begins to fuss and cry. Without thinking, he brings her up against his chest and pats her soothingly on the back. “Shhh, it’s okay little one, your mum will be back soon.”

He continues rubbing her back and whispering soothing nonsense words until her crying subsides, his own worries temporarily forgotten.

Chapter Text

As she kneels in front of the toilet, her head hanging over the bowl, someone knocks on the bathroom door. “Rose? It’s Mo. You alright in there? There’s a bit of queue accumulating out here.”

“Fine, I’ll just be a minute!” she calls back. She takes a deep breath, and tries to will the nausea away. For a moment, she thinks it’s actually worked, until her stomach flip flops and she’s left clutching the edges of the seat as she empties the contents of her stomach into the toilet.

“That doesn’t sound very good. Are you sure you’re alright?” Mo asks from the other side of the door.

“Fuck off! Can’t a girl have a bloody hangover in peace?” she snaps back. Evidently, she’s made her point, as Mo doesn’t answer her. Weakly, she gets to her feet and stumbles over to the sink, where she rinses her mouth out with mouthwash and splashes cool water on her face. Finally, she flings the door open and stalks out of the bathroom, into the hallway.

“Since when do you get hangovers?” Mo asks, following after her. “You used to be able to drink an entire bottle of moscato and feel nothing!”

“Don’t know, think maybe it’s just red wine that does it. I almost never drink it, but we had a bottle with dinner last night,” she lies, her eyes searching the room for Alec. She sees him then, standing against the wall, and her mouth goes dry. He doesn’t see her, because he’s staring down at the baby cradled in his arms, a bittersweet expression on his face. For once, he doesn’t seem wound tight with tension. He just looks...comfortable. Peaceful. She doesn’t think she’s ever seen him look so at ease. Naturally, she can’t help but imagine what he might look like with their own child cradled in his arms, and she swallows hard, uncomfortable with the sudden rush of feelings the image fills her with.

He finally raises his head, and his gaze settles immediately on her. Timidly, she waves at him from across the room, and he rewards her with a smile. She can’t help but smile back at him.

“Looks good on him,” Mo observes. “Kinda makes you want one of your own, don’t it? He’s awfully pretty, you’d probably have some damn adorable babies.”

“Yeah, maybe,” she replies, and her voice sounds reedy to her own ears. If Mo notices, she doesn’t say anything. “We only just started dating, talking about children isn’t exactly on the radar yet.”

“Are you sleeping together?”

Rose flushes. “What difference does it make?”

“So that’s a yes then,” her cousin says smugly.

She frowns back at her. “Shut up.”

“He’s fit, though. Lucky you. Jimmy would be jealous as fuck if he were here,” Mo says. “Last I heard, he moved to Australia for a girl. Have you heard from him at all?”

“No, and I don’t want to. He’s dead to me. I hope he gets kicked in the face by an angry kangaroo, falls into a nest of spiders, and is eaten by a pack of rabid dingos.”

Mo snorts, and almost spills her drink all over herself. “Tell us how you really feel. Also, when did you become an expert on Australian wildlife?”

“Enough about bloody Jimmy Stone. He’s gone. Good riddance to bad rubbish. I’ve moved on,” she fumes.

“Fair enough. Sorry. I’m gonna get another margarita. You want one? Hair of the dog and all,” Mo offers.

“No, I’m good. Still feeling a bit sick, better not chance it,” she answers.

“Suit yourself,” her cousin says, heading for the kitchen.

By the time she makes her way across the room to where Alec’s standing, the neighbour has relieved him of the baby. When she walks up to him, he’s propped against the wall with his hands in his pockets, looking pensive. She puts her arms around him, and rests her head on his shoulder. “You’re gonna be a brilliant dad,” she whispers in his ear.

“You think so?” he asks, and she detects a hint of insecurity in his voice.

“I know so,” she replies, hugging him tight.

* * * * *

They manage to sneak out shortly after dinner, before Jackie has a chance to corner them and bombard Alec with questions. Once they’re back in the car, she lets out the sigh that’s been building up inside of her. The whole visit had felt like a charade, and she is relieved it’s over, at least for now. She puts the car into drive, and pulls away from the kerb.

“Your family seems nice. A bit wild, but nice. Very tight knit,” he says.

She looks over at him, and smiles. “You did well. Especially with the neighbour’s baby.”

He laughs. “She didn’t really give me much of a choice. She handed me the baby and dashed for the door before I could levy a protest.”

“Still,” Rose says soberly. “You did well with it. I know you’ve said you weren’t the best dad before...but I think you’re gonna do better this time.”

He nods thoughtfully. “Thank you. It means a lot that you think so.”

“Of course,” she says, reaching out to briefly clasp his hand in her own before returning it to the steering wheel. They’re less than a mile from her flat when traffic starts to become sluggish. Alec sighs with obvious frustration.

“See, this is why I hate the city. Too much bloody traffic wherever you go,” he grumbles.

“It’s not that bad,” she says, a tad defensively. London might not be the greatest city in the world, but it’s still home and she feels a certain sense of protectiveness towards it. “No worse than the traffic going into Broadchurch on the weekend. Besides, patience is a virtue.”

“Patience gets us nowhere fast,” he replies. “Not in Sunday traffic, anyway. What’s the bloody holdup? Is there a church on this block?”

“Don’t think so,” she says, peering down the street in the hopes of locating the source of the sudden traffic jam. She can just barely make out a neon sign on the front of one of the buildings. As they creep closer, the shapes of the letters become recognizable. She does a double take, thinking she must have read it wrong.

“Little Vegas Charity Chapel,” Alec reads out loud. “Make a donation, and marry your sweetheart today, Las Vegas style. Proceeds benefit the Children’s Hospital of London.”

“That’s mad,” she says, straining to get a better look. “I mean, is that even legal?”

“If they’re doing it for charity in the middle of London, it would have to be. They’d need special permits for that sort of thing,” he answers her vacantly, an inscrutable expression on his face.

“You okay?” she prompts.

He turns to look at her, his eyes steely with resolve. “Let’s do it.”

“Do what?”

“Let’s do it. Let’s get married.”

Chapter Text

She slams her foot down on the brake, sure she’s heard him wrong. “What did you just say?”

“Let’s get married,” he repeats.

“That’s what I thought you said,” she exhales shakily. Behind her, angry motorists honk their horns and shout expletives out their windows. She pulls the car over to the kerb, out of the way of traffic. “You really don’t need to do this, you know. Offer to marry me because you feel guilty or you think it’s the right thing to do.”

“It has nothing to do with that,” he says earnestly, taking her hand. He runs his thumb lightly across the inside of her wrist. “I just want to be sure that if anything happens to me, god forbid, you and the baby will be taken care of. This would be the easy way to make sure of that.”

“Oh, well that’s just brilliant. For a moment there, I thought you were actually trying to be romantic. I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself,” she says, snatching her hand away from him. He looks hurt, but he doesn’t try to reach after her.

“I know you’re perfectly capable, but I want to help. I want to be here, I want to raise this baby with you, but if for some reason I can’t, I need to know that you two will be provided for,” he says pleadingly.

“And you think getting married is the best way to do that?”

“Yes. I won’t have to change my will or anything. If something were to happen to me, you would be entitled to death benefits, my pension, things like that. At the very least, you wouldn’t have to worry about working for a while. Please, Rose. Just think about it from a logical standpoint. This is the only way I can be sure you’ll be taken care of if the surgery doesn’t go according to plan.”

“Yeah? Well what happens if you live?” she asks, her voice rising. “Did you stop and think about that?”

This time, he does reach out for her hand, and hesitantly, she lets him take it. “Then I’ll consider myself the luckiest man in the world, for more reasons than one.”

He’s being completely serious.

“You know my mother will literally murder me. The last thing in the world she wants is for me to follow in her footsteps,” she sighs, biting her lip.

“Forget about your mother for just a minute,” he says gruffly. “What do you want?”

She knows what she wants, but is afraid to say it out loud, as if putting voice to her secret dream will jinx it. But if ever there were a time to be honest about her feelings, this is it. “I want the family I never had growing up. Mum and dad and baby, all together, happily ever after.”

“That’s what I want too,” he replies, pulling her into a fierce hug. It’s a bit awkward with the gearshift in between them, but neither one of them seems to mind.

He’s staring at her now, waiting for an answer. She swallows hard, and squeezes his hand.

“Alright. Let’s do it.”

* * * * *

It all happens so fast, she doesn’t have time to get nervous or have second thoughts.

There’s about ten minutes worth of paperwork first, all to guarantee that the marriage is official and legally binding. The charity workers running the chapel sell them a cheap set of simple silver rings, with the assurance that all the money collected will go to the children’s hospital. Wearing a borrowed birdcage veil, she holds Alec’s hands and gazes into his eyes under the blessed watch of one thoroughly unconvincing Elvis impersonator. They read the generic vows provided, Elvis pronounces them man and wife, and they kiss while another one of the charity workers snaps their picture with an old Polaroid camera. It’s completely and entirely surreal, and she expects to wake up at any moment and find it all a dream.

The whole thing only takes about twenty minutes, and then they’re back outside, standing on the pavement in front of the chapel as the rest of the city continues to bustle on around them, oblivious.

“I can’t believe we just did that,” she laughs, staring down at her shiny new wedding band with giddy disbelief.

“Neither can I,” he says, wrapping his arms around her waist. “Shall we celebrate?”

“I suppose so. But I can’t drink.”

“Oh, I can think of some other ways we can celebrate,” he says, a glimmer in his eye.

* * * * *

It might be a bit silly, but he rents them a room at the same shady little hotel where they spent their first night together. and despite her protests, insists on carrying her over the threshold to their room.

“Romantic enough for you, Mrs. Hardy?” he asks teasingly, depositing her gently on the bed.

“Mrs. Hardy. Jesus, that’s going to take some getting used to,” she laughs, still in disbelief. She’s actually someone’s wife now. She’s always been a bit spontaneous, but this...this definitely takes the cake. She can’t wait to see the look on Jake’s face when she tells him the news. Her mother, on the other hand…

Well, no use dwelling on that now. For the moment, she’s actually happy, and she wants to hold on to that feeling of giddy anticipation for the future. Their future. She won’t allow herself to think of an eventuality where they aren’t together. Now more than ever, she realizes that though she might be able to give it a go on her own, like her mother did, she doesn’t want to end up that way. She’s not really certain that she loves Alec, not yet, but she thinks she could, in time.

He stretches out next to her on the bed, and they hold hands, staring up at the ceiling.

“Are we completely mad for doing this?” she asks, desperately needing his reassurance.

“Maybe. But at least we’re mad together,” he answers, kissing her softly on the lips.

Chapter Text

It’s not even twenty-four hours before they have their first row.

They’re about two hours outside of London and with one more to go until they reach Broadchurch. Of course, they would have to be in the bloody car, so there’s no escaping it. And of course, it’s over something they certainly should’ve discussed before getting married. Apparently, he’s learned nothing.

“Think it’s about time I get out of the Traders,” he says conversationally. “Rent a house there in town. A two bedroom ought to do it. Plenty of space for the three of us.”

Rose glances over at him briefly before she looks back at the road. “What, in Broadchurch?”

“Well yeah, where else?” he replies, raising his eyebrows.

“I thought maybe you meant London.”

He snorts. “Absolutely not. I hate the city, I could never live there. Too dirty, too crowded, too expensive, among other things. No thanks.”

“My whole life is in London,” she replies evenly. “My friends, my family, my job. It’s my home.”

“And my job is in Broadchurch. Plus, Joe Miller is going to go to trial, and I know I’ll have to testify, not to mention I can’t just abandon Ellie. I can’t leave now,” he says matter of factly.

“So what, you’re going to help me raise this baby long distance?” she asks, and there’s no mistaking the sarcasm in her voice.

“No, of course not. We’re married, we should live together. But it makes more sense for you to come down to Broadchurch. Once I’m back to work, I’ll be making more money than you will at the pub, certainly enough to support the three of us. You said yourself before that you can barely afford living in London, this makes the most sense,” he answers.

“I don’t want to live in Broadchurch,” she says flatly. “I’m having a baby, I want to be near my family and my job. I don’t want to move away.”

“Rose, don’t be ridiculous. You’re pregnant, you can’t keep working at that shitty little dive, spending all night on your feet around a bunch of lushes. Besides, Broadchurch will be much safer for a child than the middle of London, and the school system is definitely better,” he replies, irritation creeping into his voice. He can’t afford to get angry, and risk blacking out or worse.

“Oh yeah, because it was so safe for Danny Latimer, wasn’t it?” she fires back.

“That was an anomaly,” he says, gritting his teeth. “It’s a very safe town with a very low crime rate.”

“Yeah, well what about those two girls in Sandbrook? Another quiet, sleepy town, and two girls murdered, the killer never caught. Nowhere is completely safe, Alec, not Broadchurch, not London, not anywhere. Wherever you go, there are bad people and there are good people. You’d think you of all people would realize that!”

“Keep your eyes on the bloody road!” he snaps, as another car swerves to miss them. She’d drifted over the line while they were arguing. “And don’t talk to me about Sandbrook, because you don’t know the first thing about it!”

She laughs bitterly. “Well this is just brilliant. I guess you were right, what you told me about marriage that night we first met. And here I thought you were just being cynical.”

He honestly doesn’t remember what he said, not after three scotches, and not through the red film of anger beginning to creep through him. “What are you even talking about?”

“Oh, don’t you remember?” she says theatrically. “Marriage is like a deck of cards. In the beginning, all you need is two hearts and a diamond. By the end, you wish you had a club and a spade!”

He snorts. “Whatever, Rose. Either you want me around, or you don’t. I can’t leave Broadchurch now, but you, you can leave London. You can tend bar anywhere, if that’s really what you want to do. And it’s only three hours away from London, it’s not like you couldn’t go see your family whenever you want. Be reasonable. You’re acting like I’ve asked you to pick up and go to bloody Siberia!”

“I know you’ve spent your whole life moving around, but I haven’t. My life has been turned upside down, and I’m just trying to keep it all together. I’m scared, don’t you get that? Everything has changed for me, completely. London is the one anchor, the one constant left in my life right now, can you blame me for wanting to hold on to it?” she pleads.

Shame colors his face as guilt floods through him. What kind of knob starts a fight with his pregnant wife? “No, of course not. I’m sorry. But that doesn’t change the fact that I can’t leave Broadchurch right now. Perhaps we can reach some sort of a compromise?”

“Like what?” she says, giving him the side eye.

“You come live with me in Broadchurch for now. By the time the baby comes, the trial and everything will hopefully be over, and then we can reevaluate our living arrangements, I can possibly put in a request for a transfer, somewhere in or close to London. With any luck, there will be positions open. Would that work for you?” he asks hopefully.

She exhales heavily. “I suppose that’s only fair. I’m sorry, I don’t want to fight with you...it’s just all the hormones. I’m much more emotional than I should be right now.”

“No, don’t apologize, I’m sorry for upsetting you. You have every right to want to be near your family and friends,” he says, contrite. “We should’ve talked about this earlier, I guess I just took it for granted that you’d come with me. That’s my fault for assuming.”

“This isn’t just on you,” she says, reaching out for his hand. “It takes two to tango. For better or for worse, right Mr. Hardy?”

“Yeah,” he agrees, sighing with relief. “For better or for worse.”

“Tell the truth,” she says, tongue poking its way between her teeth. “You just wanted an excuse to have make-up sex later.”

“Well technically speaking, this is our honeymoon, so I don’t think I really need an excuse to shag you,” he says, chuckling. “But hey...if you want make-up sex, I’m more than happy to rise to the occasion. Anything for my lovely new wife.”

She laughs. “You’re a dirty old man.”

“Yeah, and I’m your dirty old man,” he says, smiling. “You said ‘I do’.”

Chapter Text

They’re lying in bed together in his room at the Traders, half asleep, when the sound of her mobile ringing pierces the silence. The chorus to Morrissey’s “Hairdresser on Fire” plays in a loop, and she knows who it is without looking at the display.

“Just leave it go,” Alec murmurs sleepily, grabbing for her hip as she rolls away from him.

“I would, but it’s Jake,” she says, reaching for the phone. She swipes her finger across the screen right before it can go to voicemail. “Hello?”

“Rose? Where the fuck are you? You didn’t come home last night, and you never showed up for work today. Is everything okay?”

“Yeah, sorry, everything’s fine,” she answers, shivering as Alec begins kissing from the base of her neck and across her back to her shoulder. “I’m down in Broadchurch with Alec. I’ll probably be home late tomorrow night, or possibly early morning the day after. I haven’t quite decided yet.”

“Can you afford to miss work?”

“I’m assuming he’ll fire me for pulling a no call, no show three days in a row. If not, I’ll be putting in my two weeks notice,” she replies distractedly, as a warm hand cups her breast and lazily begins to thumb her nipple. “It’s just become too exhausting spending eight hours every night on my feet. I’m pregnant, I’ve got to find something a little less labor intensive.”

“You don’t think you should hold off on quitting until you’ve found another job first?”

“I’m not really concerned about it,” she answers tersely. She doesn’t want to drop the whole marriage and moving bomb on Jake over the phone-he’s her best mate, he deserves to get the news in person. Not to mention, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to carry on a coherent conversation with Alec’s hard on pressing insistently against her bottom and his lascivious hands roaming over her bare skin.

“Are you sure you’re alright? Your breathing sounds funny.”

“I’m fine,” she says, biting back a moan as Alec presses a finger between her thighs. “Listen Jake, I gotta go, bit busy now I’ll text you when-ah, when I’m getting ready to-to leave Broadchurch. Later!”

Tossing her mobile unceremoniously onto the nightstand, she rolls over to straddle him, pinning his wrists above his head. “You’re becoming rather distracting to be around, you know that?”

He raises his eyebrows and gives her a lopsided grin. “Are you complaining then?”

She leans down and kisses him, soft and slow. “Of course not. By all means, feel free to distract me whenever you like, you handsome devil.”

“If I take you up on that offer, we’re never going to leave this bed.”

“Sounds good to me,” she says, reaching down between them to grab his cock. He hisses through his teeth and thrusts roughly into her hand, growing increasingly more stiff as she deftly strokes and squeezes his length. Gripping him firmly near the base, she lets the swollen head of his cock slip teasingly along her already slick folds so that he’s now positioned just outside her entrance.

“Fuck, Rose...please,” he gasps through clenched teeth, his fingers digging into her skin as he grasps desperately at her waist.

Grabbing him by the shoulders, she bucks her hips just so, letting him slide blissfully into her slippery silken warmth. They begin to move in tandem, her rolling her hips as he thrusts in and out of her, the underside of his cock brushing against her clit and creating a delicious friction that makes her over-sensitized nerve endings sing. Biting her lip, she throws her head back and comes with a breathless cry, her inner walls clenching tight around him. She feels his body go taut underneath her, and then his cock, twitching and pulsing inside of her. She waits until he’s gone still to roll over and off to the side.

“We should row more often,” he says, reaching out for her hand. “Because the make-up sex? Top notch.”

She laughs, and presses a kiss to the side of his neck. “We could always skip the rowing and go right for the shagging. Cut out the middle man, and all that.”

“The people in the room below probably hate us by now,” he chuckles, running his fingers through her hair.

“Yeah, well, one of the many reasons why we’re going to the real estate agent’s first thing in the morning,” she says, resting her head on his chest. She can hear the irregular rhythm of his heart beating beneath his skin, a grim reminder that he might be living on borrowed time. She struggles to swallow the lump in her throat, and buries her face against his chest so he can’t see the tears that are pricking the corners of her eyes.

He doesn’t miss a beat, though, and immediately picks up on her change in demeanor. “What’s wrong?” he asks, tilting her chin up and forcing her to look at him.

“I’m scared for you,” she confesses, her voice wavering. “Your surgery isn’t for another two weeks, a lot could happen between now and then.”

“If it’s any consolation, according to the NHS, the odds of having a heart attack during sex are actually slim to none.”

“Stop it,” she says, swatting his arm. “I’m trying to be serious.”

“So was I...but you’re right. Sorry,” he says sheepishly. “Just trying to lighten the mood.”

“Suppose I’ll let it slide this time,” she sighs, snuggling against him. “But next time...you owe me chips.”

“Fair enough,” he replies, wrapping his arms around her and pulling her closer in. He draws the covers up around them, cocooning them in its pillowy warmth. Her eyelids are just beginning to droop when his chest rumbles beneath her cheek. “I kind of hope it’s a boy. It’d be nice to have a son, to pass on the family name. But I wouldn’t mind another daughter, either.”

She yawns, and shifts in his arms. “I don’t really care either way, to be perfectly honest. When I was a kid, I always imagined I’d have one of each.”

“I used to wish for the same. Never thought it might actually happen,” he says, spreading his palm against her belly.

She smiles, and covers his hand with her own. “Well I hope you get your wish.”

“And you.”

Her heart leaps at that. Is he suggesting…? No, he couldn’t be, that’d be mad. “Guess we’ll just have to wait and see,” she says softly.

“Yeah,” he replies, kissing the crown of her head.

Chapter Text

It’s late afternoon, and his patience is waning. They’ve been looking at houses since half nine this morning, and Rose has vetoed every single one as “too”. Too drafty, too far from the store, too big, too loud. He knows she doesn’t really want to be in Broadchurch, and he feels much the same, but he can’t help but feel like she’s being unnecessarily difficult. He keeps telling himself that she deserves to be discerning, for all that she is giving up to be with him. But he’s not the only one losing patience. The real estate agent, who had been all smiles that morning, is starting to look bothered, and she keeps glancing at her watch and tapping her feet.

“Well, this is it. The last one on the list,” the real estate agent says, and you don’t need to be a detective to hear the unspoken subtext: this is it, you crazy bitches, end of the line, so help me God if you wasted my entire day for nothing I’m going to piss in a cup and throw it at you.

He already has a feeling she’s going to say no. The house is right along the river, and there’s water on the pavement by the front door. It probably floods when it rains. That’ll be a no.

“It’s two bedrooms, one bath, eat-in kitchen. It does come pre-furnished, but you’re responsible for all utilities. The owner is asking for at least a one year lease.”

One year lease. That’ll definitely be a no, then.

Rose surprises him by grabbing his arm. “I don’t know, it’s a bit kitschy with all the nautical stuff, but it’s kinda cute. And the view is lovely.”

He raises his eyebrows. “Seriously? You like it?”

“Yeah. Dunno, it’s just very charming. Feels like somewhere you’d stay on holiday,” she says, picking up a knick knack sitting on one of the shelves.

The real estate agent looks thoroughly relieved. “We were asking £600 a month, but I could let it go for £500.”

“What do you think?” Rose asks, looking at him expectantly.

“I think it’s fine, but it’s a one year lease. Are you sure?”

She shrugs. “What’s a few months extra? Realistically, I know we can’t pick up and move to London right after the baby is born, so this gives us a little extra time before we have to worry about finding somewhere else to live. Besides, this place is cute, if a bit quaint.”

That’s all the encouragement he needs. “We’ll take it,” he says, to the mutual relief of everyone in the room.

* * * * *

It’s with great reluctance that he watches Rose leave the next morning, so early that the sky is still mostly purple and speckled with stars. The riverside chalet won’t be ready until the weekend, and she has to return to London to get her affairs into order before they can properly move in together. It’ll only be a few days at the most, but he still finds himself dreading the thought of going to bed without her. Alone. What if he dies in his sleep? What if he never wakes up next to her again?

It’d been easier to put his doubts and misgivings to the side when he’d had Rose with him, but now he’s all alone with his thoughts and completely wide awake. He’d walk over to the newsagent’s and get a cup of tea or a coffee, but of course it’s closed up tight, has been since Jack Marshall committed suicide weeks ago. Instead, he begins to walk, not in any particular direction at first. Unconsciously, he finds himself drawn to the cliffs overlooking the beach. This early in the morning it’s deserted, the only sound the relentless pounding of the surf against rock and sand. He takes a seat on a bench and lets his mind wander as the sun rises.

He’s going to have to tell Daisy about the surgery, and eventually about Rose and the baby. She won’t be happy about it, he knows. She had never quite given up the hope that they might all be a family again, and he feels a twinge of guilt. While him and Tess have both obviously moved on, Daisy has not. Him creating a new family, separate of her and her mother, will likely be seen as yet another betrayal. He hopes she’ll eventually warm up to the idea of being a big sister, but he imagines that will likely take time. And Rose...well, that’s another story entirely. His new wife. His second wife. His wife.

“Blimey,” he says, scrubbing at his face with his hands. It all still feels unreal. When Tess and him had split, he’d told himself he’d never do it again, never put his heart out there like that. All it had taken was Rose Marion Hardy, née Tyler, and one unborn baby, to crumble his resolve.

“Well fancy meeting you here,” Miller says, breaking him out of his thoughts as she plunks down next to him on the bench.

“What are you doing up here this early?” he asks.

“Kids are still sleeping, and I don’t sleep much these days,” she says, shoving her hands in her pockets. “Figure you of all people know what that’s like.”

“Aye.”

“So where have you been the last few days? Haven’t seen you at all since Friday night,” she asks, as nonchalantly as possible for someone who very clearly wants to ask him six million questions.

“I went up to London for the weekend.”

“With Rose?”

“With Rose,” he confirms.

“Is it still complicated?” she asks.

He chuckles. “Oh Miller, you have no idea.”

“Only because you never tell me anything, you knob,” she says, elbowing him. “So I’m guessing you two aren’t really ‘just friends’?”

“Not exactly, no,” he says, raising his left hand and giving her a little wave.

He can tell the exact moment she notices the wedding band, because her mouth drops open and her eyes go as wide as saucers. “Oh my God, Hardy, you didn’t!”

Is he actually smiling? “Yeah, I did.”

“You eloped?”

“You sound surprised.”

“Of course I’m surprised, you git! The most spontaneous thing I’ve ever seen you do was order a muffin instead of oatmeal for breakfast!” she squawks. “Now you’re telling me you just upped and decided to get remarried over the weekend? After all your speeches about how you can’t trust anyone?”

“I had a change of heart,” he says with a shrug.

“You had a change of heart?” she repeats doubtfully. “What, because she’s young and blonde and pretty?”

“That has nothing to do with it, Miller,” he says mildly.

“Then what? You accidentally get her up the duff?”

He says nothing, just looks out at the horizon.

“Oh my God, you did. You got her pregnant. Bloody hell, Hardy!” she exclaims. “What are you, a randy teenager?”

“What are you, my mother?” he snaps back. “How about a ‘congratulations’, Miller.”

She snorts. “What, on your shotgun wedding? I hope you got a paternity test first.”

He shakes his head and gets to his feet. “I don’t know why you’re so angry. I thought you’d be happy for me.”

“I’m not angry, I just think you’re bloody mad!”

“Well maybe I am mad. But you know what else I am, Miller? Happy. For the first time in a long while, I’m actually happy, and it’s because I have something to look forward to now. I’m not going to apologize for being happy. I think maybe I’ve finally earned it,” he declares.

Ellie’s face softens. “You’re going to be a dad again.”

He can’t help but grin. “I know. Isn’t it brilliant?”

“Suppose,” she says, the corners of her mouth turning up just slightly. “Hopefully, the baby will take after its mother.”

“Finally, something we can both agree on,” he laughs.

Chapter Text

It’s a little after eight in the morning when she unlocks the door to her flat and creeps inside. The drive from Broadchurch hadn’t been long-she’d avoided a lot of traffic by leaving so early. Still, she feels stiff and a bit tired, and is looking forward to crawling into her own bed for a while. She’ll go by the pub when it opens and talk to her boss, and then she can sit down with Jake later. Perhaps soften the blow a bit by ordering takeaway from his favorite Italian place. Or maybe she’ll cook for him. He cooks for her all the time, she hasn’t for him in a while.

Inside her bedroom, she quietly shuts the door and drops her rucksack to the floor before collapsing forward onto the unmade bed. The pillow she’s burying her face in still smells faintly of Alec’s cologne, and she inhales deeply. It smells like Earl Grey tea with lemon, lavender and cedarwood, and something else vaguely spicy that she can’t quite put her finger on. The scent is comforting though, and somehow familiar, but fills her with a pang of longing so fierce it aches. She wishes she was still snuggled up in his arms in bed at the Traders.

She sighs, picks herself up from the bed, and forces herself to get out of her clothes and into her pyjamas. She’s feeling quite a bit anxious about the idea of telling Jake that she’s moving to Broadchurch to be with Alec, and that they had gotten married. She honestly isn’t sure what kind of reaction he’s going to have, or how he’ll take the news that she’s moving out. And then there’s the matter of her mother, who she can hardly tell she’s moving without having to reveal that she’s also pregnant. That one will have to wait a bit. It’s not like she sees her mother very often as it is, she can probably hide the fact that she’s not living in London for a while before Jackie catches on. She hopes, anyway. That’s one guilt trip and lecture that she’s really not looking forward to.

Nerves buzzing, she pads into the kitchen to make herself a cup of tea, and screams. Standing in front of the open refrigerator is a naked man, and it’s definitely not Jake.

“Shit,” he says, dropping the carton of orange juice he’s holding.

“Who the fuck are you and what the hell are you doing in my kitchen?” she shrieks, grabbing a knife from the rack on the wall and brandishing it in front of her.

“Whoa, easy there,” he says, holding his hands up. His accent is American. “I’m sorry I startled you, I’m a friend of Jake’s. I thought we were here by ourselves, he said his flatmate wasn’t around.”

“I was away, I just got home,” she says, averting her eyes. She’s still clutching the knife by her side. “I’m Rose.

“Jack Harkness,” he says, extending his hand to her. “You mind putting that down, Lorena Bobbitt? You’re making me a bit nervous here.”

Hesitantly, she sets the knife down on the counter, but she doesn’t shake his hand. She shouldn’t be so embarrassed by the sight of a naked man, and yet she finds herself blushing. When did she turn into such a prude? It’s not the first time she’s bumped into one of Jake’s conquests the morning after. Most of them aren’t this fit, though.

And that’s no thought for a married woman,” she thinks, silently scolding herself.

“Sorry, is this better?” he asks, putting on Jake’s cheesy old “spooning leads to forking” apron.

He looks so ridiculous, naked save for the apron, that she can’t help but laugh. “A bit, yeah.”

He looks ruefully at the puddle of juice on the floor. “I hope you didn’t come in here for the OJ, we’re fresh out at the moment.”

“Nah, cup of tea, actually,” she says, leaning against the door frame. “I wanted to relax and maybe go back to sleep for a bit. I don’t think the adrenaline from finding a naked stranger in my kitchen is going to wear off for a while, though.”

“Yeah….sorry about that,” he apologizes. “Shall I put on the kettle then?”

“I didn’t think they drank much tea where you came from,” she replies, taking a seat in one of the mismatched kitchen chairs.

“Oh, I’m from Scotland, actually,” he answers as he fills the kettle from the tap.

“Really?” she says doubtfully, raising her eyebrows. “You don’t sound it.”

“I was born in Scotland, but I grew up in Illinois. I moved back a couple of years ago,” he explains as he sets the kettle on the burner.

She tries not to look at his bum as he putters around the kitchen, pulling tea and sugar out of cabinets like he’s at home. This should all feel a lot more awkward and weird than it actually does, but given the turn her life has taken recently, this certainly isn’t the strangest thing that’s happened to her this week.

Right as Jack sets two mugs down on the table, Jake pokes his head into the kitchen. “Ah, shit. Rose, I see you’ve met Jack?”

“Something like that,” she says, winking at him knowingly. He just grins, and waggles his eyebrows at her, and she feels her stomach drop. Jake has been her best mate for ages, and he’s been a daily part of her life since she was jilted by Jimmy. They’ve always shared everything, all the ups and downs and crazy life changes. They weathered them all and came out friends on the other side. The idea of leaving him and the life she’s always known behind to start a completely different life in Broadchurch is paralyzing.

“Actually, Jack, do you mind giving Jake and I a moment alone? There’s something I need to talk to him about,” she says, gathering her courage.

“Oh. Um, yeah, of course,” Jack says, setting the kettle back on the stove. “I’ll just go hang out in Jake’s room.”

She waits until the other man has left the room to turn to Jake. Taking a deep breath, she gathers her courage. “We need to talk.”

Chapter Text

“Is everything alright?” Jake asks with concern, reaching across the table to take her hand.

“Yeah, everything’s fine,” she says nervously, biting her lip. “It’s just...I’ve got some news, and I don’t know how you’re going to take it. I don’t want you to be mad at me.”

“Is this about Alec?” he asks bluntly.

She toys with her tea to avoid looking directly at him. “Sort of. Well...yeah. It’s about him and me. Us.”

“Rose, just spit it out. What’s going on?” he urges. “He hasn’t run out on you already, has he? Because I’ll fucking murder him.”

“Down boy, it’s nothing like that,” she says.

“Then what?”

She takes a deep breath, and looks up at the ceiling. “I’m moving to Broadchurch. To be with Alec. We’re gonna give it a go as a couple, properly. We’re going to try, at least, for the baby’s sake.”

Jake blinks at her incredulously. “You can’t be serious. You’re moving in with him? You’ve only just started dating!”

“I know, but Jake...I really like him. I really do. And if we could have a shot at being together, at being happy and having a family, then I want that. I’ve always wanted that, ever since I was a little girl. I just never imagined it’d happen this way,” she says, blowing her fringe out of her eyes.

“You’re absolutely certain about this then?” he asks, and she can hear the skepticism in his voice.

“Not absolutely certain, no. But certain enough that I want to try,” she replies. She takes a deep breath, and steels herself. The next bit is going to be the hard part. “Jake...there’s something else. Alec and I...well, we got married on Sunday. Nobody knows yet, except for you.”

“Fuck off! You did not!” he sputters, slapping the table in disbelief.

Rose cringes. “Please don’t be angry at me.”

“So that’s where you’ve been the past few days. Bloody hell, Rose, it’s been nothing but secrets with you lately!” he exclaims angrily.

“I know, I know, and I’m sorry, I really am, it’s just been weird for me, trying to sort all of this out. That’s why I’m telling you now. Coming clean. Please don’t be mad. I’m actually kind of happy about this...I want you to be happy for me.”

Jake whistles through his teeth. “I don’t know about all this, Rose. You’ve gone rather deep rather quickly. You hardly know each other. I know you want to make this work because of the baby, but getting married? You don’t think that’s rushing things just a little bit? You could have waited, to see if you two are even compatible as a couple.”

“It was Alec’s idea to get married now. He wanted to make sure that if anything happens to him with the surgery, me and the baby will be taken care of. It’s...a practical arrangement,” she says, playing with her teaspoon.

“Yeah, sorry, but marrying someone who is barely more than a stranger because he got you pregnant doesn’t strike me as being practical, it strikes me as being foolish and impulsive,” he declares flatly.

She sighs and shoves her tea to the side. “Fine, whatever. You can be mad at me if you like, but that doesn’t change the situation, it just makes it easier for me to leave. I’m moving in with Alec regardless. I’ll leave my furniture, you can rent the room to someone else. I know you can’t afford the rent on your own.”

“I’m not angry at you, I’m just hurt that you left me out of the loop, that’s all,” he says glumly. “You used to tell me everything.”

“I know, and I’m sorry,” she says sincerely. “It wasn’t anything we planned ahead of time, it just sort of happened. It was all very spur of the moment. We saw the ad for the pop-up chapel, and we went and did it before we really had a chance to second guess ourselves.”

“The charity chapel they were doing for the children’s hospital?”

“That’s the one.”

“Seriously? That was what, three blocks from the flat? You couldn’t have rang me? I could’ve done your hair and makeup, come and thrown rice at you,” he sulks.

“I’m sorry,” she says again, for lack of anything better to say.

“You really are bloody mad,” he answers back with no malice in his tone.

“Takes one to know one, kid.”

“When are you moving out?”

“By the end of the weekend. The house we rented won’t be ready until Saturday.”

“Fuck,” he says, and his bottom lip trembles. “I’m really going to bloody miss you, you jerk.”

Her chest constricts painfully, and she squeezes his hand. “Our place in Broadchurch is a two bedroom. You could come down and visit for a week, take a little vacation.”

“Yeah, I suppose. But it’s not going to be the same. Who’s going to stay up til 3am drinking and watching reruns of Coupling with me?” he laments.

“There’s always Shareen.”

“Shareen is kind of a bitch.”

“You’re kind of a bitch.”

“You’ve got me there.”

“I’ll come back and visit whenever I can,” she promises. “It’s not that far away.”

“Yeah, you’d bloody well better,” he grumbles, but the fight has obviously gone out of him.

“Alec’s pacemaker surgery is scheduled for the end of this month here in London. I’ll be back up with him then, we can all spend a bit more time together. I’d like for you two to get to know each, maybe even be friends,” she suggests tentatively.

“Oh yeah, let me become pals with the bloke who knocked up and stole my best mate,” Jake says, but she can see a hint of a smile in his eyes.

“At least it’s not Jimmy,” she says like a mantra.

“I’d drink to that,” he says. “If it weren’t 9am and you weren’t pregnant. Also, we’re out of whiskey.”

She leans over and bumps his shoulder with her own. “We’ll be alright though, you and me. We’ve been through much worse. Still friends?”

“Best friends forever,” he says without hesitation.

She smiles back at him. “Best friends forever.”

Chapter Text

Jake helps her cram the last of her stuff into the back of the car, and they stand there awkwardly, at a loss for what to say. It still all feels a bit surreal, to finally be leaving home for the first time. Her entire life, all twenty-five years of it, reduced to a couple of boxes of miscellaneous junk and some garbage bags full of clothes jammed haphazardly into her backseat. The things she wishes she could bring the most are the ones she has to leave behind-Jake, her mum, Shareen. She’s always loved the fast moving pace of city life, how is she going to cope with adjusting to a small, sleepy seaside town? She hopes that what she has with Alec will be enough.

“So...guess this is it,” Jake says, scuffing his toe against the pavement. He’s refusing to look her in the eye. This is probably even harder for him than it is for her.

“Suppose so, yeah,” she answers, staring down at her own feet. It shouldn’t be this hard to say goodbye. She’s moving a few hours away, not joining the Peace Corp and going to the Philippines. Something about it though feels final, which is silly, but she can’t shake it.

“I’m really going to miss you, you chav,” Jake says, pulling her into a fierce hug.

She squeezes him back, reluctant to let go. “You’d better come and visit. It’s summer now, and I live at the beach. No excuses, Simmonds.”

“You sure your husband won’t mind?” he asks wryly.

“I don’t think he will. And if he does..well, too bad,” she says.

“Alright,” Jake says, breaking the embrace. “You’d better go now, or we’ll still be saying goodbye when you go into labor.”

She laughs, and dabs at her eyes as she opens the driver’s side door. She’s not going to cry. “See you later.”

“Not if I see you first.”

* * * * *

It’s still light out when she pulls up behind the chalet and puts the car in park. The engine ticks as it cools, the only other sound besides the pounding waves and the laughing of seagulls flying overhead. The spot they’ve picked to forge their new life together is nothing if not peaceful. The sound of the ocean in the distance is almost like the rush of traffic back home. If she closes her eyes, she can almost imagine she’s in London. Maybe this won’t be as hard as she’s imagining. Maybe she’s going to love it.

Gathering her courage, she gets out of the car. On the other side of this gate is her new life, as a wife and as a mother. This is where she leaves the girl Rose Tyler was behind, and becomes Rose Hardy, the woman. Of course she doesn’t feel ready for it, but she’d be surprised if anyone ever did. If she’s learned anything over the past few weeks, it’s that life happens whether you’re ready for it or not. At the very least, she knows that she’s not walking this road alone. She’s got Alec, and soon enough, they’ll have their baby, too. Taking a deep breath, she pushes the gate open. It’s now or never.

On the other side, Alec is perched on the steps, nose buried in a book. She notes that he’s wearing glasses, which she’s actually never seen on him. They look good on him, though, really good, and her stomach flip flops. He looks up when she shuts the gate and gets to his feet with a smile, holding out his arms. “Welcome home, Mrs. Hardy.”

Grinning, she lets him pull her into his arms. “Long time, no see,” she says, leaning up to peck him on the cheek.

“Well that won’t do at all. We’re supposed to be on our honeymoon, and you’ve been gone three whole days. I’m going to need a proper kiss,” he teases, letting his hands settle on her waist.

“Well...if you insist,” she whispers, pressing her lips firmly against his own. Internally, she sighs. She hadn’t realized just how much she’d missed the feeling of their mouths and bodies pressed tight against each other.

“I’m sure you’re tired from the drive. Why don’t you come inside? I was just about to start making dinner,” he says, breaking the embrace.

Her eyebrows lift in surprise. “You’re gonna cook for me?”

He chuckles. “Don’t sound so shocked. I’m actually not terrible in the kitchen, used to cook for my daughter all the time. Although there’s always takeaway, if you’d rather…”

“No, no, you’re cooking for me, that’s brilliant. No bloke’s ever cooked for me before, besides Jake. Look at you, playing homemaker,” she says, elbowing him teasingly.

“I’m all about bending traditional gender roles. Besides, you spent three hours driving, the least I can do is make dinner for my beautiful new wife,” he says, holding the door open with a smile. “After you, my dear.”

Inside, she leans against the counter and watches him putter around the kitchen. Already, he looks at home. “What’re you making?”

“Pan-seared tilapia with cucumber pineapple relish and roasted asparagus,” he answers, leaning into the fridge to grab ingredients.

“Sounds fancy,” she says, twisting a lock of hair around her finger. She’s quite impressed, actually-she doesn’t know many men who cook, besides Jake. There’s still so much she doesn’t yet know about her husband, but the prospect of discovering it seems more exciting than daunting, like unwrapping a gift you weren’t expecting.

“Well, it’s our first night together in our new house, I wanted it to be special,” he replies, rinsing the produce in the sink.

“Do you need any help?”

He looks over his shoulder at her. “Just stand there and look beautiful, that’s all I need.”

She laughs. “Flatterer.”

“And there’s plenty more where that came from, Mrs. Hardy” he says, waggling his eyebrows.

She can’t help but smile at that. In fact, she’s been all smiles since she laid eyes on him outside. “Mrs. Hardy. I like the sound of that.”

“As do I. Why do you think I keep saying it out loud? I still can’t believe you’re actually my wife. I want to shout it from the rooftops.”

“Have you told anyone yet? About us?” she asks.

“Besides Ellie? No, not yet. She’s the only person I really talk to on a daily basis, besides you.”

“What about your daughter?”

He makes a clatter, shuffling around his cutting board and knife. “Daisy doesn’t know. She doesn’t return my calls, and I don’t want to tell her in a message. But soon. I’ll tell her soon.”

She doesn’t miss the trace of anxiousness in his voice at the mention of telling his daughter about them. She imagines he probably feels much the same way about that as she does about telling her mother about her pregnancy, amongst other things. But that’s a line of thought she doesn’t really want to go down. When Jackie finds out that she moved out of London without saying a word, she’s going to kill her.

She pushes all thoughts of her mother aside, and wraps her arms around him from behind as he stands at the counter, dicing cucumber and humming under his breath. She doesn’t want to feel guilty right now, she just wants to enjoy this. Being in her new house, with her new husband, having dinner together like a proper couple.

“Nevermind everybody else for now, let’s just focus on us,” she says. “I missed you.”

He wipes his hands on a kitchen towel, and turns around to face her. “I missed you, too. A ridiculous amount. Hardly slept the whole time you were gone. Bed felt empty without you in it.”

She doesn’t know why, but she finds herself blushing. “There will be plenty of time for sleep later.”

He smiles cheekily. “Not if I can help it.”

Chapter Text

He can’t breathe.

He’s drowning.

He’s going to die.

Water surrounds him, forces its way into his mouth and up his nose, down his throat, into his lungs. The great irony of it is that it feels like burning, being unable to gasp for breath. His heart pounds in his chest like an out of beat drum, the muscle squeezing painfully, leaving him dizzy. His head bobs above the water, and he takes a great, panicked gulp of air before being pulled back under. The river’s current is too strong and he cannot fight it. He reaches out for her blindly, and his fingers finally connect with her body, but it feels wrong, swollen and distended. Lifeless.

What sort of person would leave a child like this?

He pulls Pippa’s body into his arms and tries to make his way towards the shore, but he keeps getting drug underneath. He can hear the blood pounding in his ears as his vision swims and goes dark.

He can’t breathe.

He’s drowning.

He’s going to die.

* * * * *

Alec jerks awake with a start, his tshirt and pants plastered to his skin with sweat. For a moment he can’t breathe, and he begins to thrash around the bed in panic, twisting the covers and tugging at the sheets. Finally, with a sharp gasp, his breath returns to him, and he sucks the air in greedily before collapsing back against the bed, panting and crying. He can feel Rose’s hands on his shoulders, trying to comfort and hold him steady.

“Shhh, shhh, you’re alright, I’ve got you. It was just a nightmare, Alec, you’re okay,” she murmurs soothingly.

He lets his head fall against her chest and he cries, unashamedly. She pulls her fingers gently through his hair and rubs the back of his neck in an effort to calm him. Finally, after a few minutes, his breathing slows down and evens out, and he’s no longer pulling air in harsh, pained gasps. “I’m sorry,” he whispers against her skin.

“It’s okay,” she replies, running her hand up and down his back, along his spine. “No need to apologize. You had a nightmare, happens to the best of us. Under the circumstances, I’m not surprised. Your surgery is tomorrow, you’ve got a lot on your mind. Stress will do things to a person. You’re only human, after all.”

“I barely feel it though, sometimes. Human,” he clarifies.

“We all have those days,” she assures him.

“Suppose,” he mumbles. The words are on the tip of his tongue, but he can’t bring himself to say them out loud: he is terrified. “Just tell her, you coward,” he thinks to himself.

“You’re allowed to be afraid, Alec,” Rose says softly, as though she knows exactly what he is thinking. Maybe she does. It’s almost uncanny, the way she seems to see past all the little walls he’s carefully constructed around himself in the wake of Tess’s betrayal.

“I’m afraid I’m going to die without knowing,” he finally confesses, and it feels like a two ton weight has been lifted off him.

“Without knowing what?” she prompts gently.

“What really happened at Sandbrook. Whether we’re going to have a son or a daughter. And so many other things. For so long, I pushed through it all, telling myself I didn’t care what happened to me. But now I do care...and I’m afraid it’s too late. That I’ve waited too long. I might not make it through this surgery because I was stubborn and foolish and now my condition is critical instead of just serious,” he admits, the words coming out in a rush. “I finally have something worth living for, and I’m terrified that it’s all about to slip away from me.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” she says, brushing his hair back from his forehead. Her fingers move to tangle with his, and she pulls his hand down to her belly. “We’re not going anywhere. Promise.”

“What did I ever do to deserve a woman like you?” he asks, brushing his lips against her own.

“I don’t know. I reckon we’ve both been through hell and back, maybe we’ve finally earned it. A shot at being happy,” she suggests shyly.

“Do you really believe in that? Karma?” he asks as neutrally as possible. It’s not the sort of thing that he buys into, but then he’s old and jaded while Rose is still young and maybe a bit naive. He would never dare to say that out loud, though. He might find the idea silly, but he wouldn’t dream of telling her that and risk offending her.

“I do, yeah,” she replies. “Good things come to those who wait. Maybe we’ve both waited long enough.”

Well, at least one of us is an optimist,” he thinks to himself. He’s still not convinced that he deserves Rose. Deep down inside, there’s a part of himself that believes he doesn’t deserve to be happy until he’s found justice for Pippa Gillespie and Lisa Newberry. Thanks to Tess’s little transgression, that might never happen.

He does believe though that Rose deserves to be happy, and he’s going to do his damndest to make it so, if the universe sees fit to let him live. He wants to believe that he wouldn’t be given a second chance only to have it yanked away, but he knows better. Good things happen to bad people, and vice versa. Both Ellie and Rose have told him he’s a good man, but he still can’t quite believe it. He doesn’t know what either one of them sees in him, or why they even tolerate his presence. He can barely tolerate himself most of the time.

“What are you thinking about?” she asks softly.

“How beautiful you are,” he says, and it’s not a lie.

She graces him with a tongue-touched smile. “Flatterer. What are you really thinking about?”

He can’t help but to grin back at her. “Alright, you got me. I’m really thinking about what’s underneath that nightie you’re wearing.”

“Ah,” she says knowingly. “Well, I think a sneak peek could be arranged, if you ask real sweet.”

“Take off your sodding knickers, pretty please.”

“Well...only because you asked so nicely.”

Chapter Text

The roar and crash of the ocean is deafening.

He’s standing on the very edge of the cliffs overlooking Broadchurch beach, staring down as the wind whips around him, blowing his fringe into his face and making his jacket flap around his body. At the edge of the water, a blonde woman stands with her back turned to him, a baby cradled in her arms. She is flanked on each side by two other girls, who are also standing with their backs turned. The waves crash, and water rushes around them. They are going to lose their footing. They’re not safe. The water. No one here is safe from the water.

He opens his mouth to try and scream a warning, but it comes out as barely more than a whisper, “Get away from the water!”

The women turn around to face him, and he is unsurprised to see that it is Rose, with Pippa Gillespie and Lisa Newbury on either side of her. The baby clutched in Rose’s arms does not have a face, just a smooth, blank expanse of skin where its eyes, nose, and mouth ought to be. The sight of it makes his skin crawl, and he shudders. This is wrong. It’s all wrong.

He tries again to scream, but the sound is lost on the wind, which is getting more intense. “Get away from the water!”

One by one, like dominos, each of them tips backwards into the ocean. He tries to move, but finds that he is anchored to the spot, as if paralyzed. He can only watch the water in frozen horror, waiting for them to resurface, but of course they never do. Around him, the landscape begins to dissolve, and there’s a persistent beeping echoing through his head. As the darkness engulfs him, the beeping grows louder.

* * * * *

Hardy opens his eyes to a nondescript white ceiling, and the generic disinfectant smell of a hospital or medical building. In the background, someone is making an announcement over the loudspeaker, but the words are faint and indistinguishable over the slight ringing in his ears. The cheap, scratchy, standard issue hospital gown he’s wearing is like burlap against his skin, and his head feels floaty, like an untethered balloon. A warm hand is tightly clutching his own though, all the confirmation he needs that he’s not still dreaming.

“You’re awake,” Rose says, tenderly brushing the hair back from his forehead.

“I’m alive,” he whispers in giddy disbelief.

“Seems so,” she agrees with a faint smile. “Looks like you’re stuck with me now.”

He struggles to sit up. “But you’re okay? Everything is okay?”

She puts her hand on his shoulder and applies gentle pressure, pushing him back against the pillows. “No, don’t try to sit up yet, just relax. I’m fine, everything is fine. You’re alright. Alec...you made it through.”

His voice cracks as he attempts to speak. “I thought I was going to lose you.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” she promises, pressing her lips against the corner of his mouth.

Perhaps it’s the last of the anesthesia wearing off, or just his overwhelming relief at waking up to find that he and Rose are both alright, but he finds himself overcome by tears. Body wracked by sobs, he cries unashamedly, fat tears cutting trails down his cheeks. “I really thought...I mean, I had a dream, more like a nightmare actually. But you drowned. It seemed so real. I thought I’d lost you and the baby.”

“Oh Alec,” she says softly, resting her palm against his cheek. “You haven’t lost us, we’re right here. And I promise we’re not ever going to leave you.”

“Thank you,” he says sincerely.

“For what?”

“For everything. Changing my life, for the better. Giving me a reason to live. Being there for me.”

She smiles softly. “I’m your wife. It’s sorta my job.”

“Yeah, but you’ve been doing it since the night I first met you. Being kind to me when no one else was, looking out for me, believing in me, even before we got married. It’s just...over these past few weeks, you’ve come to mean so much to me. So, so much. You’ve made me the happiest I can remember in a very long time. And...I’m really glad I found you. I know this isn’t what either of us had planned on, but I don’t regret it. I wouldn’t change a moment of it, not for the world,” he confesses, so earnestly that it almost catches him by surprise. He never speaks this freely, not to anyone, not even to Miller. But Rose isn’t just anyone. She’s his wife, and the mother of his unborn child.

“I feel exactly the same about you,” she replies, grabbing his hand and tangling her fingers with his own. He lifts his head just enough to meet her halfway for a lingering kiss.

There is another admission just on the tip of his tongue, but he’s afraid that if he says it out loud the whole thing will come crashing down on top of him. He knows that he loves Rose, is falling hopelessly in love with her, but he’s afraid that acknowledging it anywhere other than in his own head will jinx them, and he can’t bear the thought of losing her now. Not after everything they’ve been through together, not with everything that is still to come. For the first time in a long time, he isn’t dreading tomorrow, nor the slow stretch of time as days tick over into weeks into months into years. He’s actually looking forward, to the future, his future, with Rose and their baby.

“Please...take me home,” he implores hoarsely.

She squeezes his hand reassuringly. “I’ll see if your doctor is around. He has to approve you for discharge.”

He grumbles under his breath, but doesn’t protest. He knows Rose isn’t going to let him just waltz out of here without talking to his cardiologist first, which is probably what he would’ve done a few weeks ago. But he does want confirmation, that the surgery was a success, that he’s going to be okay. He needs the reassurance as much as he knows Rose does. Because now, he’s got things to live for, someone who he depends on, someone who depends on him. He can’t be the careless, reckless man he was in the wake of Sandbrook.

This is his second chance, and he isn’t going to waste it.

Chapter Text

“What’s this?” Alec asks with obvious distaste, frowning as she sets an open takeaway container and chopsticks in front of him.

“It’s your dinner,” she replies, taking a seat next to him on the settee. She scoots closer, so their elbows and knees are almost, but not quite, touching.

“Yes, but what is it?” he repeats, wrinkling his nose and poking doubtfully at it with his chopsticks.

“Steamed chicken and mixed vegetables with brown rice, off the special diet menu. Low sodium, low cholesterol, no MSG,” she answers, opening her own takeaway container.

Alec eyes up the food, looking for all the world like a fussy toddler who has just been served a plate piled high with all of his least favorite vegetables and a promise that there will be absolutely no pudding until he finishes every last bite. “So none of the stuff that makes Chinese food taste good. What’s the bloody point of that?”

She rolls her eyes and scissors a piece of broccoli between her chopsticks. “The point is that it fits into the dietary recommendations of your doctor. Just give it a try, it can’t be all that bad. Lots of people have to order off the special diet menu, otherwise they wouldn’t bother offering it.”

“Yeah well, just because something is popular doesn’t always mean it’s good,” he grumbles.

“Is he always this whiny?” Jake asks from his perch on a nearby armchair.

“Cut him some slack, Jake,” she says mildly. “He did just have surgery.”

Alec takes a bite of chicken, chews thoughtfully, and swallows with a grimace. “It tastes like wet cardboard. It doesn’t even taste like chicken.”

“That’s probably because it’s really cat,” Jake quips with a grin.

“Children, the both of you,” she says, leaning over to steal a piece of Alec’s chicken. She almost fumbles and drops it in her lap before managing to clumsily depositing it into her mouth. “It’s not so...ugh. Okay, yeah, I take it back, this is really bad.”

“I told you,” Alec says, a note of triumph in his voice.

“You should go to Tasty Garden and arrest that cook for culinary crimes against our tastebuds,,” she gags, spitting the half-chewed chicken into her napkin. “Sorry, but I think I’m good on Chinese for tonight.”

“The chippie around the corner is still open,” Jake supplies helpfully through a mouthful of lo mein, he and his iron stomach evidently not the least bit put off or dissatisfied with his own food.

“I’m already in my jimjams,” she protests. “Besides, he’s not supposed to have fried foods, doctor’s orders. It hasn’t even been twenty-fours since he got out of surgery.”

“In and out of the hospital in less than a day, that should barely qualify as surgery,” Jake says, steadfastly ignoring the dirty looks she’s shooting him.

“Sod the doctor’s orders. I survived the damn surgery, I don’t think one order of fish and chips will be the thing that kills me. Let me celebrate being alive and here with you by consuming some bloody salt and grease,” Alec protests.

The look on his face as he makes his plea pulls at her heartstrings, whether he has intended it to or not. She’s sure he would object to the term ‘puppy dog eyes’, but that’s the closest thing she can equate it to. And as silly as it is, she can’t help but believe that he’s suffered enough, to the point that she almost can’t bear the thought of her making him unhappy over something as simultaneously trivial and important as what they eat for dinner. Fish and chips is comfort food, and lord knows, they could both use a little comfort. If making him smile is as simple as letting him bend the rules a little bit, how can she deny him that? Seeing him happy makes her happy. It’s a win-win, honestly.

She smiles at him and drops a kiss to his forehead, and the way the corners of eyes crinkle when he smiles back at her makes her stomach do flip flops. “Sure, chips. Whatever keeps a smile on your face, dear.”

“Dear? When did you get so bloody domestic?” Jake teases.

“We’re married, I’m allowed to be domestic,” she replies, maybe a tad too defensively. Since when is it a crime to call your spouse by a pet name?

“I thought you hated domestics,” he says, raising an eyebrow.

She shoots him a dirty look, willing him internally to drop it. What is with him tonight? “Yeah well, once upon a time I thought Jimmy Stone was the best I could ever do in life. Things change. People change. Didn’t realize I needed permission to change my mind.”

Jake holds his hands up. “No, sorry, I didn’t mean it like that. Of course you don’t need anyone’s permission to change your mind. I mean...it’s cute. You two are cute. You’re cute together. I ship it.”

She exhales without realizing she’d been holding her breath in the first place, and chuckles to break the tension in the room. Now she feels foolish for bringing up Jimmy, and anxious to put it quickly behind them. “Thanks, I think. Sorry I jumped down your throat. It’s been an emotional, mad day. I guess I’m still a little on edge.”

“You ship it?” Alec repeats cluelessly, his eyebrows knitting together in confusion.

Jake just laughs and smiles at Rose. “He’s your husband.”

“Shut up,” she says, but she’s smiling too. That seems to be happening a lot lately. She’s smiled more in the past six weeks than she had in the entire six months leading up to her meeting Alec, and felt more cared for and appreciated than the entire time she’d been with that no account vampire Jimmy Stone. Swallowing hard, she realizes that the flip flopping in her stomach with every laugh, smile, touch, and kiss she shares with Alec feels an awful lot like the butterflies you get when you’re falling completely, head over heels, madly in love.

Chapter Text

It’s an uncharacteristically humid night, even for summer in London, and they’ve both stripped naked and are laying under a single sheet on top of the lumpy old mattress in what used to be her bedroom. The gauzy pink curtains whip and flutter around the open window and the ancient ceiling fan is turned on high, squeaking and creaking like a ship about to lift off for space. The sounds of the city moving along outside blend into the background, like white noise. Something about it though is comfortingly familiar-she hasn’t realized she’s missed it, really, hasn’t had a chance to miss it with everything else going on. Homesickness has taken a backseat to feeling out the landscape of a new marriage in a strange place, and worrying over her new husband’s health. And then, of course, there’s the baby. Her head is stuffed full with unarticulated doubts and concerns. She’s sprawled on her side with Alec laying behind her, his arm draped loosely over her waist. It’s how they usually sleep, but she still can’t help but to worry, about him, about them, and about their unborn child.

“You sure you’re comfortable like this?” she asks him for the third time in less than five minutes.

“As comfortable as I’m going to be, under the circumstances,” he answers.

“Maybe you should lay on your back. You don’t want to put too much pressure on your torso,” she frets.

“Rose, relax. The doctor told me to sleep in whatever position is the most comfortable for me, and this is comfortable. It’ll be fine,” he says reassuringly, giving her hip a gentle squeeze for emphasis.

“If you’re sure…” she replies uncertainly. Her desire to protect him has only grown more intense over the last twenty-four hours, as though he is made of glass and not flesh and blood. She knows it’s silly, but she almost can’t help it.

“I’m sure that I sleep better when I’m holding you,” he confides, his grip on her tightening so slightly that it’s almost imperceptible.

She smiles at the admission, the cacophony of doubts in her head temporarily silenced. “Yeah, me too.”

His stubble scratches lightly against her shoulder as he nuzzles his head into the crook of her neck. “Thank you for taking such good care of me these past few weeks. And thanks for letting me bend the rules and indulge a little bit tonight. I’m finally starting to feel human again.”

“So what were you before then, if not human?” she asks, not really expecting a serious answer.

“I don’t know. But I wasn’t alive. Not properly, anyway. God knows, I sort of lost myself in the Sandbrook case. Then there was the divorce, and Danny Latimer’s murder. So much of it felt like a movie, like I was standing on the outside watching all of this happen to someone else, not me. I guess that was how I coped, or rather how I avoided coping. By pretending as though it was happening to someone else. Made it easier to deal with, I guess.”

“And you don’t feel like that anymore?”

He’s silent for a long moment, and she thinks maybe he didn’t hear her, but then he begins to talk again. “It’s hard to believe this is my life now sometimes. I was so unhappy for so long, it’s hard to imagine being anything else. I never imagined I’d be a father again, never imagined I would be able to move on after Tess. The feeling of being happy is so foreign, I keep expecting to wake up and find that the last few weeks of my life were actually a fever dream I had during surgery.”

Carefully, she turns over to face him. “This isn’t a dream. The mattresses aren’t lumpy in dreams.”

He chuckles. “Fair point.”

“Look…,” she says, touching her forehead to his. “I know you don’t believe it, but you deserve to be happy. Just because you’ve made mistakes in the past doesn’t mean you’re condemned for the rest of your existence. You’ve done your penance, it’s time to move on. You can start by forgiving yourself, whether you think you deserve it or not.”

“And what about you?” he asks.

“What about me?” she says, raising her eyebrows.

“Have you forgiven yourself for the past? You never talk about it.”

“Not much to talk about. I lived a very boring, monotonous life.”

“You never talk about your ex, what happened. My demons are out in the open, my fuckups, well...Tess’s fuckups, were all laid bare in the papers. I told you we split because she cheated. But you...you’re still a mystery to me. I don’t know how any man with a heart or a brain could willingly walk away from you, let alone leave you at the altar.”

“You’d have to ask Jimmy that,” she answers softly. She should have expected Alec would eventually ask about the man(child) who’d come before him, but it still leaves a nasty feeling in the pit of her stomach, like when you’re walking down the stairs in the dark and you misjudge where the last step is. All the years she’d been on and off with Jimmy she’d thought she was in love. Looking back on it now, she can’t believe how naive and foolish she was to think she could try and make him better.

“I’ve upset you,” Alec says, regret clear in his voice.

“No, no, it’s fine,” she insists. “You have a right to know. It’s just...could we talk about it another time? We’re supposed to be celebrating the fact that you made it through surgery, I don’t want to taint that with a lot of bullshit and bad memories.”

“Of course. I shouldn’t have brought it up. See, I did tell you I’m rubbish at relationships,” he offers apologetically.

“You’re not rubbish, not even a little bit,” she says firmly. “Trust me, I’ve been with rubbish, I would know.”

“I’m so glad I found you,” he murmurs softly, his breath warm on her cheek.

“Me too,” she replies in the moment before his lips press urgently against her own.

Chapter Text

“This is probably a bad idea,” Rose protests half-heartedly as he nibbles at her neck. “You’re not...ah, Alec! The doctor said...you’re not...supposed to...overexert yourself.”

“Who said anything about me overexerting myself? You’re the one who’s breathing all heavily,” he teases, playfully nipping at her earlobe and delighting in the way it makes her shiver against him. Surviving his surgery has given him a completely new lease on life, and he feels like a kid again, in a good way. The last 38 years are no longer pressing down on top of him like a pile of bricks, slowly crushing the air and the life from him. He can’t describe what he’s feeling exactly-the closest word he can think of is giddy, and even that doesn’t seem quite right. He is quite certain of one thing he’s feeling though, and that’s the increasingly pressing need to shag Rose rotten.

“So cheeky tonight, Mr. Hardy. I kind of like it, actually,” she replies with a smile, the tip of her tongue poking enticingly between her teeth.

He knows first hand what sort of things those lascivious lips and that wanton tongue are capable of, and the thought sends an electric surge of desire rushing through his body and straight to his cock. “There’s plenty more where that came from,” he promises her hoarsely, running the tip of his tongue along the edge of her clavicle and tasting the faintest trace of salt on her flushed skin, milky porcelain turned blushing pink with summer heat and arousal.

Looking at her laid bare before him he feels his pulse begin to race, although for once he isn’t concerned about whether or not it might cause him to blackout, or worse. No time like the present to put his pacemaker to the test. Resuming his careful exploration of her skin, he takes one dusky nipple into his mouth, just barely grazing it with his teeth til it pulls into a taut pink peak. Underneath him, Rose begins to mewl and squirm, and he goes from half-hard to so stiff it almost aches in barely more than a moment. He releases her nipple with a wet pop, and moves to take the other one into his mouth. He teases the sensitive little nub with lips, teeth, and tongue, and Rose sighs and twists beneath him. Fingernails scrape urgently against his scalp and then she’s tugging him upwards, back up her body and into a desperate, bruising snog.

“I need you,” she gasps in between feverish kisses.

“What about the doctor’s orders?” he asks, trying not to sound too smug. He’d had a feeling it wouldn’t take her long to come around. “You aren’t worried I might ‘overexert’ myself?”

“Sod the doctor’s orders!” she exclaims, echoing his own protest from earlier that night. Her voice drops, becomes husky. “Roll over and I’ll get on top.”

Someday, he might learn to say no to this woman, but today is not that day. Mindful of his incision site, he turns carefully onto his side before rolling onto his back. Rose wastes no time moving to straddle him, placing her knees on either side of his hips as she carefully grips his shoulder with one hand. Her body is an open flame, dancing and radiating heat. Grabbing his cock by the base, she guides him to her entrance, and in one smooth motion sinks down onto him, sheathing him completely in her velvet warmth. He hadn’t realized he was holding his breath until he feels it leave his lungs in a shaky exhale. Rose bucks her hips and begins to move, and his eyelids flutter shut as he groans in relief.

“Is this alright?” she asks, concern creeping into her voice. “I’m not hurting you, am I?”

He grits his teeth and gives her arse a squeeze. “It’s quite a bit better than just alright. I’m fine, brilliant, couldn’t be better. Carry on.”

She doesn’t reply, just leans down and presses her lips firmly against his own as she begins to gently rock her hips. She breaks the kiss and slowly pulls herself back into an upright position, but her eyes, large and dark with lust, remain fixed on his face. He’s at the perfect angle to observe her body, and take in the barely noticeable changes in it. Her breasts, which were lovely to begin with, are just the tiniest bit larger and rounder. Her nipples are a darker hue than the peachy pink he remembers from the first night they spent together. And her abdomen, which had been taut and flat before, now sticks out just a little bit, the swell so slight it would be imperceptible to someone with a less trained eye. Her body is suffused with the glow of pregnancy though, and she is beautiful, a goddess, lovely, perfect, and his, the mother of his child, his wife, and now his reason for living.

The ragged sound of her breathing drags him out of his reverie, and he looks up to see her, glassy eyed and biting her lip, head thrown back in ecstasy as she grinds against him. The muscles in his stomach tense and pull tight, and he spends himself inside of her with a shiver and a wordless gasp. A moment later he can feel her muscles clench and flutter around him, and she grasps desperately at his shoulders as her body goes rigid and she cries out her release. With a sigh, she rolls onto the bed next to him, and reaches out to grab his hand. The two of them lay clasping hands and staring at the ceiling, quiet except for the sound of their breathing as it gradually slows and evens out.

“Feels good to break the rules,” she finally says a few minutes later.

He chuckles lightly in agreement, and brings her knuckle to his lips. “Aye.”

“You’re a bad influence,” she chides lightly, poking him in the bicep.

“Only because you’re starting to rub off on me,” he teases back.

“Hey, if you doubt my innocence, feel free to search me. I mean, I’m already naked and all,” she says, giving him the same tongue-touched grin that started the whole thing.

“Give me a couple minutes, and I might take you up on that.” he replies, smiling back at her.

Chapter Text

Rose’s mobile begins to jingle while he’s laying in bed, watching her get dressed and marveling that any woman could make putting clothes on seem just as alluring as taking them off. The phone almost buzzes right off the nightstand where it’s resting, the vibrations are so strong.

“You want me to get that?” he asks, leaning over and catching the phone just before it tumbles over the edge and onto the floor.

“Who is it?” she replies, tugging her jeans up and over her hips.

He can’t help but notice that they’re just a bit more snug on her than they were the week before. She’d said she hoped she wouldn’t start showing for another month or two, but it seems mother nature has other plans. He shakes his head and glances down at the caller ID. “It’s your mum. Shall I answer it then?”

“Let it go to voicemail,” she says through gritted teeth, struggling with her zipper.

He shakes his head, and drops the mobile onto the bed next to him, its buzzing muffled by the soft embrace of the pillows and blanket. “You can’t avoid her forever, you know. At some point, you’re going to have to tell her the truth about us and the baby.”

“Yeah, well, it doesn’t have to be today,” she replies, her voice clipped and short.

“Who knows when the next time you’ll be in London is? Wouldn’t it be better to just get it out of the way and over with now?” he asks.

She stops fiddling with the clasp of her bra and turns to look at him. “Have you told your parents about us yet? Or your daughter?”

Sheepishly, he rubs the back of his neck. “Uh well...not exactly. Not yet, anyway. But I will.”

“That’s what I thought,” she replies, and he doesn’t miss the subtle rolling of her eyes as she turns back to look at herself in the mirror. She frowns at her reflection, though he can’t begin to imagine why. She looks perfect, her skin and hair glowing with the luster of pregnancy.

“Look, I’m not trying to start a fight,” he says, holding up his hands as though he can use them to keep an argument at bay. “I’m just saying that the longer you wait, the harder it’s going to become. And the angrier she’ll probably be that you didn’t tell her sooner.”

“Alec, please. I’ll tell her when I’m good and ready, alright? Just drop it.”

He knows well enough to recognize the subtle warning tone in her voice, the tone that suggests that if he continues to press the issue, she’s going to verbally set him on fire. “Fine, sorry,” he mutters sourly.

“Look,” she says, grabbing him by the wrists. “It’s not that I don’t appreciate where you’re coming from, but it’s different for men. If you ‘accidentally’ get a girl pregnant, it’s whatever, no one really cares, they write it off as an accident and move on. When a woman ‘accidentally’ gets pregnant, everyone assumes it’s because she was stupid or lazy or careless, or even that she was maybe trying to trap the man somehow. It’s a stupid double-standard, but that’s how a lot of people think even now. I know my mum is going to be disappointed in me, no matter how I spin it. She spent most of my teenage years warning me not to end up like her, and I’ve already failed spectacularly on several accounts there. So yeah, I’m putting off telling her because I don’t want the lecture. No one likes letting down their parents.”

“You aren’t a failure and you don’t need to defend yourself to me. You may be my wife, but you’re still your own person, and I respect that you need to make your own choices. I just know, as a parent, how I’d feel if I found out my daughter was hiding something that important from me,” he replies, running his thumb absentmindedly along the inside of her wrist.

“You’ve made your opinion on the matter clear more than once. I get it. But it’s not like I’m going to become unpregnant, divorce you, and move back to London, and my mum isn’t going anywhere. I’ll tell her eventually, in my own time, just as I imagine you’ll do with your own family,” Rose says in the sort of dismissive tone that indicates the conversation is closed. “Were you going to get dressed? If we don’t leave for Broadchurch soon, we’re gonna hit traffic and I don’t think my bladder can handle being stuck in a gridlock for more than an hour.”

“You are my family,” he says quietly, ignoring the question. “You and our baby, you’re my family now.”

Her facial expression smoothes out, and the overall air of irritation she’s been projecting all morning melts away as she pulls him up into a sitting position and wraps her arms around his shoulders. His cheek is resting against her abdomen, and he can’t help but to press a soft kiss there against the bare skin of her belly. The words are there again, right on the tip of his tongue, but he swallows them, wraps his own arms around her waist, and focuses on just how good it feels to be held by another person instead. Surely she can intuit from the tenderness of his touch just how much affection he has for her. But more than that, these quiet, private moments between them feed his starving heart. He wants to tell her that he loves her, that she means the world to him, but he’s still so afraid that saying it out loud will somehow jinx or curse it. That’s the real reason he hasn’t told anyone other than Ellie about them yet. It feels sort of ridiculous to be so afraid of three little words after everything he’s been through, and yet he is still paralyzed by the fear that maybe she doesn’t feel quite as strongly for him as he does for her.

Chapter Text

Alec is woken gently from slumber by the sensation of something stroking lightly and insistently against the freckled patch of skin between his eyebrows. Unconsciously, he wrinkles his nose, and his eyelids flutter slowly open. A fuzzy pink and yellow shape comes into view above him, and he blinks owlishly to clear the last blurry traces of sleep from his eyes and bring it into focus. Rose’s softly radiant smile comes into sharp relief, and he finds himself grinning helplessly back at his new wife like the completely and utterly besotted, lovesick fool that he is. Not a bad view to wake up to, not bad at all.

Her hair is still pulled back in the braid she’d put it in before going to bed last night, and a few wayward strands have slipped loose to delicately frame her face, which is flushed and glowing with healthy color. And her lips...god, those lips. Even when she isn’t wearing any makeup, they’re the absolute most enticing shade of perfect, pouty pink that practically demands to be constantly kissed and nibbled. In the early summer morning’s light, her eyes sparkle like sea glass; she’s a goddess whose beauty could put Aphrodite, Eostre, and a dozen others to shame. And somehow, amazingly, she is his goddess, and though he is not a religious man anymore he would happily worship at her temple every single day. She has brought him back to life from the brink of death, quite literally, and he is so far gone for her that there will surely be no turning back.

He reaches out and cups her cheek fondly with his open palm. “Hello, gorgeous.”

“Good morning, handsome,” she replies, pressing a lingering kiss against his cheek. “How are you feeling?”

“Oh, I’m just brilliant,” he answers, and he’s still grinning so hard it almost hurts. “Absolutely superb. Fantastic, even. Never been better, no more broken heart.”

Rose smiles and tenderly brushes the hair back from his forehead, the tip of her tongue slipping mischievously through her teeth. “Good, glad to hear it. I’ve got a little surprise for you.”

“Oh really?” he asks, waggling his eyebrows at her suggestively. “What’s the occasion?”

She chuckles and gets up from the edge of the bed. “Down boy. It’s not that kind of a surprise, you randy old lech. Just wait here, I’ll be back in a tick.”

He draws himself up into a sitting position and eyes Rose’s bum appreciatively as she sashays out of the bedroom. “Nope, not a bad view at all,” he thinks to himself, marveling again that he’s been granted the good fortune to find a woman who is equally as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside.

Several minutes later Rose returns, balancing a tray laden with food. Carefully, she sets the tray down on the bedside table before climbing back into bed next to him. “Breakfast in bed for the daddy to be. Happy Father’s Day, Alec.”

“Is it Father’s Day already?” he asks, accepting a fragrant, steaming cup of tea from her. He takes a sip, and it’s exactly how he likes it, just a little bit of sugar with a generous splash of cream. In all the years he’d been with Tess, she could never manage to fix his tea without making it too bitter, and here Rose had managed to perfect it in only a few short weeks. If he were the superstitious sort, he’d take that as some sort of sign. “I guess I’ve kind of lost track of time a bit since I’ve been with you. The days all sort of blur together, but in a good way.”

“I know what you mean,” she says, passing him a plate of Belgian waffles that looks like something straight out of a cooking magazine. “Time always seems to drag by when you’re unhappy. When things are good, the days pass by in a blink of the eye. And things have been rather good lately.”

He takes a bite of waffle, laden with berries and whipped cream, and groans. “Woman, you spoil me.”

“You deserve it,” she replies, holding up her tea. “Cheers.”

He bumps his mug against hers gently, careful not to splash tea everywhere. “Cheers. And thank you. You’re much too good to me.”

After they finish breakfast, he helps her wash the dishes, her rinsing and him drying. It’s so mundane an act, so domestic, but it feels novel somehow, doing it with Rose. He’s quite certain he could spend the rest of his days with her doing nothing but washing dishes and folding laundry and still it would never get boring, not as long as they were doing it together. After the last piece of silverware has been dried and put away, he wraps his arms around her from behind, his hands resting interlaced over her belly and his chin fitting into the gap between her jaw and shoulder. He inhales the sweet scent of her honeysuckle body wash, and sighs contentedly.

“I think it’s a girl,” she blurts out suddenly, breaking the silence. “I had a dream, and in it...you were holding a baby girl.”

“What did she look like?” he whispers against her neck.

“Sorta like me when I was a baby. Blonde hair, blue eyes,” she answers.

“So beautiful then,” he says, rubbing her belly affectionately. “Our little rosebud.”

“Our little rosebud,” she whispers in agreement. “I like that.”

“I thought you might.”

“C’mon,” she says, unwrapping herself from him. “I’ve got something for you in the bedroom.”

“Do you now?”

“It’s not that sort of something, Alec.”

He waits on the bed, somewhat impatiently, while she rifles through her bedside table drawer. “Gotcha,” she says triumphantly, producing an oversized yellow envelope. She scoots closer to him, and sets the envelope in his lap.

“What’s this then?”

“Oh go on and just open it, you plum.”

He gently slides his finger underneath the flap and pulls the envelope open. Inside is a single sheet of what feels like high quality photo paper, which he grips by the corner and pulls out of its paper sheath. It’s Rose’s sonogram from a few weeks ago, along with some text. He clears his throat, and begins to read out loud.

Though you've never held me in your arms
Or gazed upon my face
Though you've never held my little hand
And led me on my way
Though you've never read me bedtime stories
Or bounced me on your knee
Though you haven't stood for hours
As in awe you watched me sleep
Though you haven't knelt with me to pray
Or tucked me in at night
Though you've never kissed my little cheek
To make my whole world right
These are the things I dream of
And I know that you do too
And though just yet we haven't met
Already, I love you!

Happy Father’s Day, Daddy! 12 weeks down, only 28 more to go. I’m about the size of a peach, and I can move my fingers and toes! I can’t wait to meet you and mummy! I’ll be here before you know it! Love, Baby Hardy,” he reads, voice cracking and tears sliding down his cheeks.

“Happy Father’s Day, Alec,” Rose murmurs quietly.

He sets the poem down on his bedside table, and turns back to her. Gently, he lifts the hem of her tshirt and bends to press his lips against the subtle swell of her belly. “I already love you too, my little rosebud. I love you and your mummy so, so much.”

Quietly, he begins to sing, his voice barely more than a whisper.

Somewhere over the rainbow way up high
There's a land that I heard of once in a lullaby
Somewhere over the rainbow skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true

Someday I'll wish upon a star
And wake up where the clouds are far behind me
Where troubles melt like lemon drops
Away above the chimney tops
That's where you'll find me

Somewhere over the rainbow bluebirds fly
Birds fly over the rainbow. Why then, oh, why can't I?

If happy little bluebirds fly
Beyond the rainbow why, oh, why can't I?

When he looks back up, Rose’s cheeks are glistening wetly with tears. “I really do love you, Alec. More than you can possibly know.”

“Oh Rose,” he sighs, pulling her into his arms. “I love you too.”

Chapter Text

“Are you sure you have to do this now?” Rose asks, hating the pleading, plaintive tone in her voice. “Don’t you think it’s a bit soon? Your surgery was only a few weeks ago, maybe you should wait a bit longer.”

“Someone has to pay the rent,” he answers brusquely, adjusting his tie in the sun visor’s mirror. “Besides, the doctor said I was fine to go back to work. It’s been nearly a month, though I know it doesn’t feel like it. Believe me, I’d rather spend my days laying in bed with you, but unfortunately that doesn’t pay the bills. I’ve just about run through my savings and you haven’t found a job yet-which is fine, by the way, you don’t need to. But at least one of us has to be working, it might as well be me.”

“I know that,” she pouts. “It’s just...I don’t really know anyone here. I don’t know the town yet. It’s going to be so boring and lonely without you.”

He cups her cheek, and kisses her forehead. “You’ll manage, I’m sure. Why don’t you give Ellie a call? Maybe the two of you could take her kids to the beach or the park or something, that way you aren’t cooped up inside alone all day. Besides, Miller could use a friend right now, and so could you.”

“I guess,” she mutters dejectedly. She knows she’s being silly, but her and Alec haven’t been apart for more than an hour or two at a time in weeks, and the thought of passing an entire day without him is making her anxiety spike.

“I love you,” he whispers, resting his open palm over her belly. “And I love you too, my little Rosebud.”

She musters a faint smile, and spreads her hand over top of his. “Yeah, we love you too, daddy. Have a good day at work.”

“See you later,” he replies, ducking out of the car.

“Not if I see you first,” she answers back. She waits until the station door swings shut behind him to put the car back into drive. As the building becomes increasingly smaller in her rearview mirror, her sense of dread only deepens. She chides herself out loud. “You’re being ridiculous. He’s survived 38 years without you, he can certainly make it a mere eight hours. It’s Broadchurch, not Camden, he’s going to be fine.”

By the time she pulls up to the Traders she’s almost managed to convince herself that she’s just being paranoid and silly. He had surgery a month ago, and they’ve been together constantly since then. Of course she’s going to worry the first time they’re apart, even though she knows deep down that he’s in better shape now than he was before the pacemaker implantation. She sprints through the hotel lobby without acknowledging Becca, and only feels slightly guilty about it. She knows what the other woman thinks about her, and she can’t help but be irritated. Life is complicated enough without giving into those sort of feelings though. She stops outside of Ellie’s door and knocks three times in rapid succession. After a brief clatter and some swearing, Ellie throws the door open.

“Oh, hey Rose. What’re you doing here?” she asks, leaning against the door frame.

Suddenly, she feels like a schoolgirl asking the popular kid if they want to hang out. “Um, well, Alec’s gone to work, and I was just wondering if you wanted to go to the beach maybe? We could take the kids.”

“Goodness sweetheart, why are you so nervous?” Ellie asks with a look of concern.

Rose laughs weakly and twists a strand of hair around her fingers. “I don’t properly know. I’ve just been anxious today. I know it’s silly, but I keep worrying something’s going to happen to Alec.”

“Oh, don’t worry about Mr. Grumpypants, he’s pretty scrappy,” Ellie says, flapping her hand. “But if you need a distraction, I’m happy to provide it. I could use a distraction, too. I haven’t been to the beach since...well, never mind that. Let me change and lather up the kids with sun cream and we’ll meet you there, okay?”

Rose exhales. “Yeah, alright, sounds good. I have to pop home and change myself. I could make us some sandwiches, if you like?”

Ellie smiles. “That sounds great. Thank you.”

* * * * *

Back at home, she makes the sandwiches on autopilot and packs them into a cooler with several ice packs and some juice boxes. She throws a few small packets of crisps on top for good measure, sets the cooler down by the front door, and goes to the bedroom to get changed into her bikini. The red and white polka dot top just barely fits now-her breasts have grown at least a cup size since she’s gotten pregnant, and a lot of her tops don’t fit quite as well anymore. She sighs, exhausted by the mere thought of having to go clothes shopping. It was an activity she used to enjoy immensely, but without Jake to critique and with a burgeoning baby bump to contend with, it feels more like a chore than anything. Unconsciously, her hands drift to cradle her belly as she scrutinizes her appearance in the mirror. There’s no more hiding it or passing it off as bloating-for better or for worse, the swell of her abdomen tells its own tale. Glumly, she throws an oversized tshirt over top of her bathing suit and drags the cooler out to the car.

* * * * *

“I think I’d give my left arm for a beer right now,” Ellie muses out loud. “Or maybe something stronger. Whiskey might be nice. But no vodka. Vodka is my no-no liquor.”

Rose chuckles, and pops another crisp into her mouth. The two of them have been chatting while they watch Fred build a sand castle. Tom, in sulky pre-teen fashion, had refused to come. “Why is vodka your no-no liquor?”

“Suffice to say, nothing good ever happens when I drink vodka. The night I met that lousey wanker Joe, I was drinking Cosmopolitans,” the other woman replies, turning the same shell she’s been turning over and over for ten minutes now in her hands.

Rose is mildly relieved to know she’s not the only anxious one. “Your husband you mean?”

“Ex-husband now. Or will be. Not soon enough, though,” Ellie mutters.

Rose sighs and stretches, pulling down self-consciously on the hem of her tshirt when it begins to ride up over her belly. “I was drinking vodka the night I met my ex, too. Course we were just stupid kids, so it was nothing as sophisticated as a Cosmo. We just mixed a bottle of Vladimir’s with some water and some Tang in a big container. In retrospect, it makes a lot more sense now, why I ever thought Jimmy was a good idea. Nothing good can come of drinking alcohol that comes in a plastic bottle, or in dating a guy whose name starts with ‘J’, apparently.”

“I’ll drink to that,” Ellie says, holding up her juice box.

“Cheers,” Rose replies, bumping her own juice box against her new friend’s.

“Well, enough about our stupid exes. Were you drinking the night you meant Hardy?” Ellie asks casually, taking a bite out of the corner of her sandwich.

She feels a bit weird, discussing Alec with his former partner and underling, but the disgraced former detective is the closest thing she has to a friend in Broadchurch. “I wasn’t drinking, no. But he was. He came into the pub where I worked. Ordered scotch. We talked a little, he left me a good tip and his number. I called him...and well, the rest is history,” she says, unconsciously stroking her baby bump. She doesn’t need to go into the sexy details, Alec would never forgive her.

Ellie’s eyebrows shoot up towards her hairline. “He left you his number? I didn’t think he was the sort.”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t think so either, but he did. Said I was nice to him. I know we’re so different, but we just connected, y’know?”

“I should say so,” Ellie chuckles, nodding her head at Rose’s bump.

“Yeah well...fate has a way of putting you where you need to be, I guess,” Rose replies, fiddling with her wedding band. She’s still not entirely comfortable with the turn this conversation has taken.

“You know what’s funny? Alec said something similar to me once. Told him his mother said it to him, that God will put you in the right place,” the other woman says thoughtfully. “Perhaps you two are more alike than you realize.”

“Perhaps,” Rose replies, picking up her mobile. “Ah, shit. My mobile’s dead. Could I use yours? I just want to phone Alec, make sure he’s alright. I told him to call me if he wasn’t feeling well.”

“Sorry, I don’t bring it with me to the beach,,” Ellie apologizes. “Last time I did, Fred chucked it in the ocean. I think he thought it was a clam, since it opened up like one.”

“I should really get back,” Rose says, gathering up her stuff. That feeling of dread that had been broiling in her stomach earlier has reared its ugly head again.

“Oh. Well, alright, if you must. I’m going to stay here, Fred seems to be having fun. Don’t think he’s done much of that lately,” the other woman says regretfully.

“Sorry, I hate to bail on you. But thanks for coming out with me, we should do it again soon,” Rose promises, slinging her towel over her shoulders.

“Definitely,” Ellie says with a smile. “See you soon.”

The time it takes to trek back to where she parked her car feels like an entirety, and she stumbles and almost trips in the sand several times before picking her way carefully back up the path to the car park. She throws the cooler in the boot, winces when her thighs touch the sunbaked driver’s seat, and turns the key in the ignition. Quickly, she plugs her phone into her car charger, and waits anxiously while it starts back up. Notifications flash across the screen: ten missed calls.

“Fuck,” she breathes, dialing Alec’s mobile and putting the car into drive. The charger pulls loose as she tries to pull the phone closer to her ear, and it dies in her hand. With a frustrated scream, she chucks her mobile onto the seat beside her and speeds back to the house in a near panic. When she pulls into the tiny driveway, the gate is half-open. Fear mounting, she pushes the gate shut behind her, rushes to the front door, and begins scrabbling with her keys. After a moment she realizes it’s unlocked, and she pulls it open and slides into the living room.

“Where were you?” Alec demands, clutching his phone as he gets up from the settee. “I called you a dozen times and you didn’t answer! I had to get Dirty Brian to drive me home from the station!”

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I was at the beach with Ellie and my mobile died,” she explains breathlessly. “What is it? What’s the matter?”

He stumbles towards her, his face crumbling as he bursts into tears. Shocked, she catches him as he sags against her and proceeds to cry hot tears into the bare skin of her neck. Cautiously, she lifts her arms and wraps them around him, and murmurs soothing nonsense until his crying subsides. All the while, her own heart is doing jumping jacks in her chest. She had known something bad was going to happen. She’d known something was going to go wrong. She should’ve listened to her intuition. Whatever it is, it can’t be good. She’s almost afraid to hear what he might say.

And then the other shoe drops.

“It’s my mum,” he finally croaks, hugging her tighter. “She had a heart attack this morning. By the time the ambulance came...she was already gone.”

Chapter Text

There’s only the one independently owned maternity clothing shop in Broadchurch, well off the beaten path and down a comically narrow and pothole-riddled side street that she’s just barely able to navigate in her tiny little Metro. She scans both sides of the alley for a No Parking sign, and seeing none puts the car into park right in front of the shop, thankful for the umpteenth time that her vehicle is not much bigger than a Little Tykes Playmobil. Of course in a few more months, when she’s swollen to the size of a small planet, she might be cursing its miniature dimensions, but at times like these it’s a blessing. Still, she’ll need to upgrade soon-there’s not much room for a car seat or a stroller or any of the other thousand tons of extra stuff you inevitably end up toting around when you’re transporting kids. She sighs, and rests her head against the top of the steering wheel, trying to drum up the motivation to try on (and then probably pay at least £40 for) a dress that she hopefully will never have occasion to wear again. With a groan, she heaves herself up and out of the car and onto the pavement. The outside of the shop is bland and non-descript, having the same generic seaside town feel as most of the other buildings in Broadchurch. The only thing that gives it away is a small pink sign on the door, flowing letters inside a curvy, stylized belly: The Blissful Bump. Skeptically, she raises her eyebrows and pushes the door inwards. It’s this, or drive 45 minutes to the nearest actual shopping mall. Beggars can’t be choosers. She’s fortunate there’s even this place-according to Ellie, there’d been no maternity shop at all up until a year or so ago.

But it’s a nightmare of garish summer neons, bright and busy floral prints, and beachy casual maxi dresses, meant for the sort of bubbly pregnant women you see on magazine covers proudly flaunting their adorable baby bumps and flawless, glowing faces with no dark circles under the eyes or hormone-induced acne. Nothing dark or somber enough for a funeral, nothing meant to conceal rather than emphasize a burgeoning baby belly. Maybe if she can find something with a real deep v-neck, her frankly ridiculous cleavage will be enough of a distraction that no one will even notice the obvious swell of her abdomen? That could work...if it weren’t a bloody funeral. Her nan had always said cleavage at funerals was trashy, probably as an underhanded dig at busty Jackie, but she had a point. Cleavage at the funeral where you’ll be introduced to your husband’s family for the first time and oh by the way, we’re married and I’m up the duff, nice to meet you, sorry about your dead mum/wife/sister/whatever? Trashier. She may have grown up on the estate, but she still likes to think she has some kind of couth and class.

Her mother always referred to it as “airs and graces”, as if it were a bad thing. That was the thing about Jackie-she always harped on about not wanting her only daughter to repeat the same mistakes she’d made in her youth and to do better, but then she almost seemed angry (maybe jealous) when Rose did well. And maybe that was half the reason she was avoiding telling her mother about her and Alec. Yes, of course there were parallels between her situation and what had happened to her mum and dad, but there was also a major difference. Alec was stable, had his own money, had a steady, decent paying job, was firmly grounded in reality, had married her of his own free will. Pete was a loveable flake, a serial philanderer who could barely hold down a job, with his head always in the clouds, who had only married Jackie because Grandad Prentice had threatened to break both of his legs if he didn’t. She’s afraid if she tells her mum about Alec, she won’t just be disappointed because she made the same mistake, but she will secretly hold it against her that Alec isn’t a bum like her dad was.

“Well shit,” she mutters under her breath, but not so quietly that the other woman browsing doesn’t hear her and look up. She blushes. “Sorry.”

A familiar face stares back at her, but she can’t place it. And then the other woman speaks. “Rose? Rose Tyler?”

“Er...yes?” she replies, still struggling to remember how she might possibly know this person.

“It’s Beth. Beth Roper? I don’t know if you remember, but we were in gymnastics class together? It was a long time ago.”

“Beth. Yes, of course,” she says with a flash of recognition. The two of them had gone to the same gymnastics camp in London every August for years in the late 90s, until the one summer Beth had just stopped showing up midway through the program. They hadn’t been close, given the gap in their age, but Beth had been one of the few older girls who was kind to her, and she had always wondered why she’d stopped coming. “Good Lord, that had to be almost fifteen years ago. You’ve got one hell of a memory. I always wondered what happened to you. Why’d you stop going to camp?”

Beth smiles ruefully. “I got pregnant. With my daughter, Chloe, she’s fifteen now herself. Gymnastics took a backseat to being a teenage parent. No regrets, though, I love being a mum, most of the time. You’re looking well, though. Is this your first?”

“Hmm? Oh, yeah,” she replies, absentmindedly stroking her stomach. For just a moment, she’d gotten so lost in remembering the past that she’d forgotten where she was. There’s something still nagging her at the back of her mind, though. “What about you? How many kids d’you have?”

Something like unease flickers across Beth’s face, and she swallows before answering. “Just Chloe. And this one on the way. I did have a son...but he’s gone now.”

And then she remembers, something Alec had mentioned off-handedly. The murdered boy’s mother was named Beth. “Shit. You’re Danny Latimer’s mum. Oh, hell. Beth, I’m so sorry...I don’t even know what to say.”

Her old friend laughs bitterly. “Don’t worry, I don’t think anyone does. I’m starting to get used to it, honestly.”

“Fuck, shit, shit, sorry. I really am sorry, I didn’t mean to bring it up. My mind is totally elsewhere right now. I came in here looking for a dress to wear to my mother-in-law’s funeral and it doesn’t even look like there’s anything in here and shit, now I’m rambling…”

Beth holds her hand up. “Rose, it’s fine. Really. You couldn’t have known. And I’m sorry about your mother-in-law. Is that why you’re in town?”

“Actually, no…,” she says, stumbling awkwardly over the words in her anxious fluster. “I live here, with my husband, just moved down from London a couple of weeks ago. The whole thing is just a nightmare, honestly. I’ve never even met his family, now the first time I do is going to be at his mum’s bloody funeral. And they don’t even know that we’re married, or that I’m pregnant, or that I even exist, so yeah...should be super awkward and terrible, I’m guessing,” she blurts out without really thinking about it. Still, it feels good to vent her frustration to someone familiar. She still feels like an outsider in this close-knit community, and there’s something comforting about seeing an old acquaintance and being able to speak freely Alec has enough on his mind without having to listen to her litany of insecurities regarding meeting his family for the first time.

Beth chuckles, and then apologizes soberly. “I shouldn’t be laughing, that sounds like a proper nightmare. Seems like both of our lives are a mess. I guess it’s good to know I’m not alone in that respect.”

“Mess is putting it mildly. Clusterfuck of epic proportions might be more apropos,” Rose quips, voice low. The sales clerk looks bored and like she might be eavesdropping, and she doesn’t want her dirty laundry being aired elsewhere. Gossip has a way of spreading through small towns like wildfire during a drought, and that’s not the first impression she wants to make.

“So I have to ask, how did you end up in Broadchurch? Small world and all that. Is your husband from around here? Maybe I know him,” Beth inquires.

Rose shifts uncomfortably, reluctant to bring up the topic of her friend’s dead son again. “Yeah, you know him. He’s uh...well, it’s DI Hardy. Alec. He’s my husband.”

“Hardy. You’re married to Hardarse Hardy?” Beth repeats, and Rose doesn’t miss the incredulous way her eyebrows shoot up and her lip curls down. “I thought he was divorced. Isn’t he a bit...old for you?”

“He was married. And now he’s not,” she replies, at a loss for what else to say. “He’s not that old. Certainly not old enough to be my dad, at anyrate. I mean, well..I guess he is old enough to be my dad, but he’d have to have been like thirteen when he had me and that would just be weird. Like me. I’m being weird. Sorry.”

Beth shakes her head and looks away. “I...I should really get going. It’s getting late, and I don’t like leaving Chloe on her own these days.”

“Beth, what is it?” she asks bluntly, sensing there’s something the other woman is reluctant to say.

“Nothing. I really shouldn’t say anything. It’s just...damnit Rose, he was practically on top of Danny’s killer for weeks. Weeks, he was right there under his nose the whole time. And then there was that mess up in Sandbrook. Maybe he’s a nice enough person at home...but I don’t know if he’s a very good cop. The entire time the investigation was going on, he was brash, brusque, and sometimes just flat out cold. And those poor parents up in Sandbrook still don’t know anything. I can’t even imagine. I barely sleep as it is, I don’t know how they can knowing their child’s killer is walking free,” Beth says, her hands balled into fists and pressed against her thighs.

Immediately, her hackles go up. Having rocked Alec through the nightmares of dragging Pippa Gillespie’s body out of the river, knowing how tortured he still was by it, she can’t help but want to defend him. “Sandbrook wasn’t his fault,” she says flatly. “His ex-wife is the one who lost the evidence, he just shouldered the blame. To protect his daughter. You’re a parent, I’m sure you can understand that motivation. That case completely broke him. If he seems cold now it’s because he’s built a wall around himself as a shelter from things as horrible as murdered children whose killer went uncaught.”

“Like I said...I shouldn’t have said anything,” Beth replies regretfully. “Listen...I really do need to go. No hard feelings, okay? Hardy, er, Alec has my number. Call me sometime..if you need to, or you want to. Having your first baby when you’re young is scary, and I’ve been there before. And um...you know, call Ellie Miller maybe. She had a baby two years ago, she might have something you could wear to a funeral in the back of her closet. You never know. Take care, Rose.”

All she can do is stand and watch the other woman leave, guts churning more now than they had when Alec had first given her the bad news. From her purse, she hears her muffled text notification noise. She pulls her mobile out and glances down at the screen.

1 New Message From: Jake

Your mum knows something is up. Call me before you call her.

Absolutely fucking brilliant.

When she gets in the car and adjusts her mirror, she can see the silhouette of the full moon, hanging low in the sun-streaked sky. “Well it bloody figures,” she mutters under her breath. Today has felt like an episode of the Twilight Zone. Just when she’d thought it couldn’t get worse, weirder, more awful, or more awkward, that had just happened.

And she still didn’t have a goddamn dress for the sodding funeral. The cherry on top of the absolute shit sundae that his been this day.

“What the actual fuck?” she says out loud and to no one in particular, putting the car into drive. She should be heading back to her grief-stricken husband, but instead she’s heading to the mall that’s nearly an hour away, because the idea of having to ask another woman to borrow maternity clothes, and then probably trying them on in front of her, gives her paralyzing social anxiety. The conversation with Beth has left her drained, and the last thing she wants right now is human interaction. She’s hoping she can just nip into A Pea in the Pod and nip back out without having to explain what she needs and why, but she knows better than to think it will actually happen like that.

“Bloody full moon!” she swears, resisting the urge to shake her fist.

Chapter Text

Alec jerks awake with a sudden start as the door to the house slams open and shut with a bang and Rose bustles in, looking harried and disheveled, a plastic shopping bag clutched tightly in her hand. She collapses next to him on the sofa with a heavy sigh and carelessly flings the shopping bag onto the coffee table. The bag slides across the glass and almost tumbles over the edge, but miraculously remains upright, albeit tilting precariously. Rose, on the other hand, looks about ready to fall over, in spite of the fact that she’s already sitting down.

“What time is it?” he asks, rubbing the sleep from his eyes and peering at his watch. “I thought you were just going to the shop down in town? It was light out when you left, now it’s dark. Blimey, how long were you gone?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” she grumbles, a sour expression on her face. “That stupid shop had nothing, I had to drive all the way out to the stupid mall, it took me waaaaaaay longer than I expected or wanted, and meanwhile, there’s a bloody full moon and everything else is going completely to shit around me.”

“What happened?” he prods, simultaneously concerned and confused.

“Forget it,” she mumbles, her voice softening. “It’s not important. Not with your mum and everything else going on. It’s stupid, just forget I said anything.”

“It’s not stupid to me, not if it’s upsetting you,” he says earnestly, capturing her hand and pulling it into his lap. He traces soothing, meaningless patterns on her palm with his fingertips. “Your life doesn’t stop mattering just because my mum died. That’s not how it works. You’ve got a lot going on too. This is happening to both of us, not just me.”

“I know, I know. It’s just...I know it’s going to sound silly when I say it out loud. And I’m going to feel silly. I shouldn’t let it bother me so much. That’s why I said to just forget it,” she says, letting her head drop against his shoulder with a sigh.

“I don’t want you to feel like you can’t talk to me,” he says seriously, tilting her chin up so he can look her in the eye. “That’s half the reason why my first marriage broke down-we didn’t communicate with each other, not properly anyway. I’ll be damned if I’m going to make that same mistake a second time. You can talk to me, Rose. I don’t want you to feel like you have to hide your suffering because you think it’s insignificant in comparison to mine. Marriage is about sharing your whole life-you divide your burdens and double your joy, isn’t that what they say?”

“You’re a really good bloke, you know that?” she says with a tremble in her voice, wrapping her arms tightly around him. “And if anyone ever tries to tell you otherwise, you send them to me and I’ll straighten them right out.”

He doesn’t break the embrace, just leans into it, grateful for the warmth of another person’s touch. Losing his mother so suddenly has left him feeling likes he’s drowning in a dozen different emotions, and he’s almost eager to lose himself in Rose’s problems, however insignificant she thinks they are, in the hopes that it might help him to momentarily forget his own. “So tell me what happened,” he asks, his face pressed against the warm and fragrant skin of her neck. His nose isn’t sophisticated enough to pick out the different fragrance notes in her perfume, but its scent, mixed with her own natural pheromones, has become synonymous with comfort to him.

She sighs, and pulls back to lean against the sofa. “It was just a nightmare, one bad thing after another. I felt like I was on one of those hidden camera show. Everything that could possibly go wrong did, y’know? I went to the shop in town, and pretty much all they had was cheerful, bright, summery stuff, nothing at all appropriate for a funeral. And then while I was there, I bumped into an old acquaintance I haven’t seen in over 15 years, I made a complete horse’s arse of myself, and then she said some things that upset me. It was just awkward and bloody awful. If I never saw her again, it’d probably be too soon, but in a town this small I can only hope to avoid her for so long.”

“Who was it? What did she say that upset you?” he asks, pulling her hand back into his lap, where he continues to draw nonsense patterns on her palm, as much to soothe himself as to soothe her.

She hesitates before answering, and he can see the trepidation in her eyes. “It was Beth Latimer, but It’s not important, not really. We were both upset and hormonal, I’d rather just forget about it.”

Of course he’s curious, especially after hearing it was Beth Latimer (how on Earth could Rose possibly know her?), but he has to resist the urge to question and pry. This is his wife confiding in him, not a hardened criminal that needs to be cracked like a walnut. Perhaps there will come a day where he doesn’t need to keep reminding himself of that fact, but it’s almost like an autonomous function, his need to question and pick apart every little thing and file it away, like a scientist dissecting a rare and fascinating specimen. He squeezes Rose’s hand in silent sympathy, hoping she’ll become comfortable enough to tell him what happened on her own.

“Was that it then?” he asks when she hasn’t spoken for a moment. He immediately cringes in shame, realizing how insensitive it probably sounded. “Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that. You just seemed so upset when you came in, I figured there might be more.”

“Oh, there’s more,” she says emphatically. “Bloody full moon, remember? So right as I’m leaving the maternity shop after my horribly embarrassing encounter with Beth Latimer, Jake texts me that my mother knows something is up and I need to call him. Turns out she stopped by today while Jake was in the shower and let herself in with the spare key. She’d stopped by the pub first, looking for me, and when they told her I’d quit weeks ago, she of course wanted to know why and as you know, I’ve purposefully been dodging her calls lately. When she got in the flat and saw that my bedroom was cleared out, she flipped out, cornered Jake when he got out of the shower and grilled him about what was going on with me. Thank God Jake has a decent poker face, he didn’t give too much away, but he had to tell her something, so now she knows that you and I are living together and she’s spamming me with angry texts and voicemails telling me what a shitty daughter I am, how could I betray her by just moving without a word, laying on the guilt and all that. I mean, I probably deserve it, but yeah...I’m so not ready to deal with her right now.”

He whistles through his teeth. “Blimey, that’s not good.”

“I think that’s probably a bit of an understatement,” Rose replies. “If she could’ve gotten an address out of Jake, she’d probably be here to slap the both of us by now. She doesn’t even have a car, but knowing her, she’d find a way.”

He has to bite his tongue a little bit. What wouldn’t he give to have his mum give him one more parental scolding, one more motherly admonishment, one more gentle but firm chiding? But he’d been the one who’d encouraged Rose to vent her frustrations to him, pointing this out to her would only be counterproductive (and maybe a bit rude). Rose’s issues with her mum are real, she certainly isn’t bringing it up just to rub it in his face or make him feel bad. He says the only thing he can think to say that won’t sound horribly bitter or depressing. “In that case, I’m glad she doesn’t have a car and that Jake doesn’t have a big mouth. I don’t think either one of us is quite up for a slapping today.”

“No, definitely not, and especially not from Jackie Tyler,” Rose agrees.

“You aren’t a shitty daughter, by the way,” he offers.

“But I really kinda am,” Rose sighs dejectedly. “Here I am avoiding my mum at all costs, when I’m sure you’d probably do anything to see your mother one last time. She’s not wrong to be mad at me, she shouldn’t have to find out important things about my life second hand from my friends. I just..I hate the thought that I’m somehow letting her down. I don’t want to see the look of disappointment on her face when I tell her what’s really going on.”

“I know you have your reasons, we’ve had this conversation before,” he says with as much patience as he can muster. He knows how he can get when he’s tired and stressed, and he knows she’s just as bad off as he is right now. He choses his next words carefully. “You’ll tell her when you’re ready. But maybe don’t wait too long. Tomorrow isn’t promised...you never know what could happen. Don’t take it for granted that she’ll always be there.”

“I know you’re right, and I’m sorry. Thanks for listening to me whinge,” she says, snuggling up against him.

Gratefully, he drapes his arm around her. “Of course love, any time. Did you at least find a dress you like?”

She makes a face. “No. I looked fat and awful in everything I tried on.”

“I very much doubt that,” he replies. “You always look beautiful to me.”

“I looked pregnant as hell in every single dress I put on. It was humiliating.”

“But...you are pregnant,” he states, bemused.

“Well yeah, but I don’t want everyone in your family to know that the first time I meet them!” she exclaims. “If I can’t even hide this stupid baby bump in black, there will be no hiding it. So much for subtlety.”

“Rose, I don’t want you to hide it from my family. I’m going to tell them the truth about us. I’m not ashamed, you shouldn’t be either. I love you and your baby bump,” he says, rubbing her tummy affectionately. “I helped make this baby bump, and I’m not sorry about it. I’m just sorry my mum never got the chance to meet you and see how amazing you are. She would’ve loved you and this baby as much as I do.”

“I don’t deserve you,” she says tearfully, wiping at the corners of her eyes.

“Funny, but I feel the same way about you,” he chuckles. “Honestly, I don’t know how you or Ellie puts up with my grumpy, ornery arse. You’ve both got the patience of a saint.”

“Well, it’s not so hard, not really. Ornery or not, you’ve got a rather nice arse,” she teases, elbowing him gently in the side.

“You feel a little bit better, I hope?” he asks, kissing the top of her head.

“I do, yeah,” she says with a soft smile. “Thank you for listening, and reassuring me. I don’t know what I’d do without you. You’re not a half-bad husband, Mr. Hardy.”

His heart swells a little at that. He’s gotten used to feeling...well, useless, if he’s being perfectly honest with himself. He’s not always great at empathizing or relating to other people, and It feels good to help Rose the way that she’s been helping him. It’s a bit mad, how hard and how fast he’s fallen for her, but he loves her so much and he’d do anything for her.

“You’re not a half-bad wife either, Mrs. Hardy,” he says, brushing her hair out of her face so he can kiss her. “And I’m sure you’re going to be a brilliant mum, too.”

“You really think so?” she asks.

“I know so,” he replies. “I’m not certain about many things, but that is one of them. You’re brilliant, and I love you. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.”

Chapter Text

“Are you sure you’re up for this?” Alec asks for the third or fourth time.

“Driving over six hours to Scotland? So long as you don’t mind me having to stop every five minutes to use the loo, I think I’ll be able to manage,” Rose replies, eyes fixed on the road.

“Well that, but I meant the whole funeral and meeting my family thing. Everyone will be there, including my ex and my daughter. Are you sure you’re going to be okay?” he presses. “Because if you aren’t, you don’t have to come. I’ll rent us a hotel room somewhere near by, and you can do whatever you like while I deal with the family business. It’s a beautiful area, plenty to see and do.”

“Are you having second thoughts about bringing me?” she asks, glancing over at him. “If you don’t want to drop the new pregnant wife bomb at your mum’s funeral, I’d understand. But I want to be there for you if you need me.”

“Of course I need you. But it occurred to me that I’m asking an awful lot of you, putting you in this sort of situation. It could potentially get ugly…” he frets. He knows there’s a chance his father and sisters will be angry that he’s told them nothing about Rose, but that worry pales in comparison to his fears regarding what sort of reaction Daisy will have. His relationship with his daughter is already strained and on shaky ground, has been since he left home and picked up and moved to Broadchurch. As much as he wants to try and repair that relationship, he also knows that shattering Daisy’s dreams of having her parents get back together isn’t going to help anything. He can’t really think of a good way to avoid hurting her, though. He can lie about his relationship with Rose or tell the truth, but either way it’ll end up hurting her, it’s just a matter of how much and when. He’s damned if he does or doesn’t, he knows this. Why would his life ever be easy?

“Look, I knew what I was potentially in for when I agreed to do this. Besides, it couldn’t possibly be any more awkward than being abandoned at the altar by that shitbag Jimmy Stone and having to face my family and tell them what happened,” she answers.

“You never did tell me the full story behind that. What happened with you and your ex,” Alec says as casually as he can manage. He’s been curious about it from the get go, but she’s been reluctant to talk about it and he doesn’t want to pressure her into telling him if she isn’t ready. Having spent the past two months with Rose, he can’t begin to fathom how any man could willingly walk away from a long-term relationship with her, let alone marriage. She’s beautiful, intelligent, patient, and nurturing, an all around great catch for sure. He couldn’t imagine having a better wife than Rose, but perhaps that’s just because once upon a time he was almost as madly in love with Tess, and she ended up being a lying, cheating shrew who put him through the proverbial wringer. The warning signs had probably always been there, he had just been too blind and stubborn to see them for what they were at the time.

Rose is quiet for a moment before she finally replies. “We just weren’t the right fit for each other, we never really were. Instead of accepting him as the wanker he was, I thought I could try and change him, make him better. I was young when we met, he was older and in a band. When I was a teen, that was more than enough, but as I got older I started to see him for what he really was-a cruel, petty, coked-out loser who thought he was better and smarter than everyone else. When I was a kid, he just seemed laid back. As an adult, I realized he was more lazy than anything else. He’d dropped out of school to pursue his dream of being a rock star, but he was a shit musician and a shit person. He had no drive whatsoever to do better for himself, he just kept holding out for the big break that was never going to come. He’d make the absolute bare minimum effort, and then get angry when no one would just hand him the things he wanted. He pretty much beat it into my head that I could never do better than him, that I was just some pathetic bint who grew up on a council estate, and after hearing it for so long...I started to believe it. He knew what all my insecurities were, and he used them against me, threw them up in my face whenever I’d dare to complain. So I pressured him to get married because I thought that I needed him to take care of me when all along I was the one taking care of him. He never really had any interest in getting married, so I should’ve known that it wouldn’t work out, I just honestly believed that he was the best I could ever do, so I clung to him. The weeks leading up to the wedding it became more and more obvious that it wasn’t going to work, but I refused to see it. I knew he was cheating on me, but I turned a blind eye to it because I just wanted my happily ever after. Jimmy just did what he had always done-he put himself before anyone else. I can’t really be angry at him for being true to himself.”

He clenches his fists unconsciously; her story makes his blood boil. He’s never laid eyes on this bloke, and he’s dreaming of knocking his teeth down his throat. “I hope you don’t think that any of that was your fault. He may not have been hitting you, but he was definitely emotionally abusing you.”

“Oh, he hit me, too,” she replies softly. “It only happened a couple of times, but when we’d have a really bad row, sometimes he’d get so angry, he’d just lash out at me. He never flat out punched me or anything like that, but he’d slap me around, grab my arm or my wrist just a little bit too hard, pin me against a wall and shout in my face, stuff like that.”

“A couple of times is still a couple times too many. Jesus, Rose, I had no idea. No wonder you don’t like talking about it, it must have been very traumatic for you. I’m sorry if I’m dredging up bad memories by bringing it up.”

She exhales heavily, blowing her fringe off of her forehead. “No...it’s alright. It’s a terrible but important part of my past, and you’re my husband. You have a right to know. Besides, it’s a bit cathartic talking about it, I guess. It was a bad experience for sure, but I’ve definitely learned and grown because of it. At least I hope I have. If my mum had any idea what was going on right now, she’d probably say otherwise.”

“So what was the final straw, if there even really was one? Did he just get cold feet?” he asks.

Rose shakes her head and chuckles bitterly. “I guess you could call it cold feet, in a roundabout sort of way. He cleared out our savings, which was really just my savings, all the money I’d been squirreling away so we could go on a proper honeymoon, and took it to Amsterdam. He owed a couple people in the neighborhood money, for drugs and gambling debt and what not, and he wanted the heat off of him. He promised me he could make it all back and then some, but he never came home. Our wedding day came and went, and he was off the grid. Mobile was disconnected, and all the letters I sent to him were returned. Last I heard, he fucked off to Australia to go after some girl he met on the internet. It was the only good thing he ever did for me-once he was gone, I sorta went through a Jimmy Stone detox and realized just exactly how toxic and awful he was. But yeah...that’s what happened. Good riddance to bad rubbish.”

“Damn,” he mutters, at a loss for anything else to say. “What a slimy bastard. I’m so sorry you had to go through all that.”

“Bastard’s putting it mildly. It all worked out in the end, though. I ended up meeting you, and I’m much better for it,” she says, resting a hand on his thigh.

“In that case, I guess we both owe Jimmy Stone a thanks, wherever his pathetic, grimy, loser arse is,” he replies, grabbing her hand and giving it a gentle squeeze.

“Suppose so. And on that note...I need to pee,” she laughs. “Thank goodness there’s a rest area just ahead.”

“Hey, you’ve made it almost an hour since the last time, that’s not so bad,” he laughs. “Much better than every five minutes.”

“See, you had to go and say that. We’ll be ten minutes down the road and miles from an exit and I’ll probably need to pee again!” she exclaims, switching lanes so she can pull off into the service area.

“So I guess that means you don’t want a tea or coffee then?” he asks wryly.

“Of course I want tea,” she answers indignantly, navigating the car into the closest open space near the entrance. “If I’m going to have to pee regardless, I might as well.”

“Divide and conquer then. You hit the loo, I’ll get the tea,” he says, surprising himself with his cheerful tone. As they walk up to the door, he reaches out for her hand. “Oh and Rose? Thank you for trusting me enough to tell me about Jimmy. I know that couldn’t have been easy for you.”

She rewards him with a smile and a peck on the cheek. “Thank you for listening. See you in a mo.”

He watches her walk away, a soppy grin on his face. He is so damn lucky. Even the absurdly long Starbucks line can’t spoil his mood as he stands waiting with hands jammed into his pockets. Rose returns a few minutes later, links her arm through his, and leans her head against his shoulder. Yeah, he’s insanely lucky. Almost too much so. This would normally be the point where he’d start getting suspicious about how well things are going, but given everything else that’s been happening, he figures maybe he’s earned it. They order and receive their tea without incident, and walk back to the car holding hands.

“Oi, Rose? Holy shit! I thought it was you back there, but I wasn’t sure.”

Both of them turn their heads towards the sound of the voice, and Rose’s grip on his hand tightens to the point that it’s almost painful. A tall, scraggly looking bloke smoking a cigarette is walking towards them, a look of disbelief on his face.

“Oh, fuck. No, no, no, no, no!” she hisses under her breath, just barely loud enough for him to hear. By the tone of dismay in her voice, he has a pretty good idea who the guy walking towards them might be, but he can’t even believe it. What would be the odds of them bumping into her ex right after she had finally told him the whole story of what happened?

The guy flicks his butt onto the ground, something like a smug grin on his face. “Shit, you gained some weight. But blimey, your tits got huge. Still eating your feelings, eh? I always did say you should lay off the chips.”

“I’m pregnant, you stupid arsehole,” Rose spits furiously.

“Pregnant? Jesus, looks like I dodged a bullet!”

“Is this-?” Alec asks, although he already knows the answer. How is this even possible? Did they accidentally drive into the Twilight Zone?

“Yes,” she replies tersely, before he can even finish his sentence. “This is Jimmy.”

“Aw, don’t look so disappointed to see me, babe. Who’s the stringbean?” Jimmy asks, gesturing at Alec.

Rose starts to speak, but he cuts her off. “I’m her husband,” he says gruffly, shifting his body so that he’s standing between her and her scumbag ex-fiance.

The other man’s eyebrows raise. “Didn’t take you long to move on. You were so desperate to get married you went and got pregnant? That’s low, even for you.”

He tries to remain a protective barrier between Rose and the toad, but she shoves past him. “At least I waited until our relationship was over to move on. You abandoned me! To chase after another woman with the money I saved for our bloody honeymoon! I almost lost everything because of you!”

“Ah, yes. Well, the girl didn’t end up working out, hence why I’m back in England, but it was a lovely trip all the same,” Jimmy answers. “Still...looks like you got what you wanted, if you don’t mind settling for an old dog. Guess this means there’s no chance of us making up then, huh? Cause I bet I still know how to push all your buttons, if you know what I mean.”

“Alright, that’s enough. This conversation is over,” Alec says through gritted teeth, taking Rose gently but firmly by the elbow. “You’re finished insulting me and my wife. Apologize and move it the fuck along loser, we’re done here.”

“Why don’t you try making me, Skeletor?” Jimmy says threateningly, a malignant gleam in his eyes.

Alec inhales deeply and hands Rose his tea. “Get in the car,” he says flatly.

“But-”

“Just get in the car!” he shouts, desperate to get her out of this situation.

“You wanna fight?” Jimmy asks, spitting on the ground. “I think you’re in a bit over your head, mate. Why don’t you just get in the car with your little slag wife and go on your merry little way?”

The sound of his fist connecting with Jimmy’s mouth is almost comical but still wholly satisfying, and even he is surprised that he managed to get one in before the other man even realized what was happening. Jimmy looks at him in shock, mouth dripping blood, before he spits on the pavement again. One of his teeth lands on the ground in a little pool of blood and saliva. With a murderous growl he lunges, and Alec neatly sidesteps him, leaving his left foot sticking out just far enough. Jimmy trips and goes sprawling face first onto the asphalt with a shocked groan, and Alec wastes no time. He presses his heel against the back of the other man’s head and stares down at him, shaking his head in both anger and pity. “I’m a cop, you festering pile of garbage. I’m trained to defend myself and others. So I’m going to tell you what happens next. You’re going to stay here on the ground and count to a hundred, long enough for me and Rose to get out of here. And while you’re laying there, maybe take a moment to reflect on your terrible life choices, and how lucky you are that Skeletor the stringbean didn’t break your fucking arm and then call to have you picked up for harassment and attempted assault on an officer of the law.”

“Fuck you, you turkey bacon piece of shit!”

He presses his heel harder against Jimmy’s neck, trying to suppress a laugh. Turkey bacon? He’s got to give it to the guy, it’s a rather inventive insult, but he has to retain his steely composure. “Y’know, I think I could probably kill you and not a single fucking person would notice or give a shit. It’d be a public service, really. But I’ve got bigger fish to fry than your pathetic arse right now, so I’m going to leave you with a warning. Don’t ever try to contact Rose again. No texts, no phone calls, no emails, no Facebook, nothing. As far as you’re concerned, she doesn’t exist. Got it? Hint: the only acceptable answer at this point is ‘yes sir’.”

“Yes, sir,” Jimmy mutters miserably.

“That’s what I fucking thought,” Alec replies, letting the pressure off the back of the other man’s head. He wipes his bloody knuckles on the bottom of his shirt and opens the passenger door, adrenaline still pumping through his body. It’s a damn good thing he has the pacemaker now, because pre-surgery Alec probably would’ve collapsed before he could defend anyone. He looks down at Rose, who’s shaking like a leaf in the driver’s seat. “Are you going to be alright to drive?”

“Yeah...I think so,” she answers, a slight tremor in her voice.

“Good,” he says, sitting down and buckling his seatbelt. “Let’s get the hell out of here and leave that waste of oxygen in the dust, preferably before someone realizes he’s lying there in a pool of his own filthy blood.”

They’re a few miles down the road before Rose finally breaks the silence. “You know, you didn’t have to do that. You could’ve just walked away.”

“I know I could’ve, but punching that smarmy git right in the face was a lot more satisfying,” he answers. “Besides...he said some terrible things about you. I had to defend your honor.”

“You’re lucky no one saw it happen. You could get in serious trouble,” she frets, chewing on her lower lip.

“Yeah, I could. But no one saw it happen, and I doubt he has the nerve to try and report it. Men like him are all the same. His pride and ego won’t allow him to admit a smaller man got one over on him. I don’t enjoy resorting to violence, but it seems to be the only language people like him understand, and I’d happily do it again if it would keep you out of harm’s way.”

“I guess you’re right. Besides...it was sorta hot, you going all defender of mankind on him. I’ve always dreamed of fighting back against him, but it’s not like I could’ve done that myself, so thank you.”

“I would say any time, but I really hope I don’t have to do that again. My knuckles hurt,” he admits sheepishly.

She laughs, carefully grabs his hand, and presses her lips gently to his bruised fingers. “Better?”

He smiles at her. “Yeah.”

Chapter Text

“Are you sure you know where you’re going?” Rose asks, trying not to let her irritability creep into her voice. What was supposed to be a six hour drive is turning into seven hours and beyond, and she is tired, sore, and cranky, on top of being anxious as hell and needing to pee for the umpteenth time. The incident at the rest area was hours ago, but her nerves are still jangling. What if Jimmy comes after them? What if Alec gets in trouble for hitting him? And nevermind all that, what if she meets his family and all hell breaks loose?

“It’s not much farther, it’s going to be right up here on the left. Or maybe it’s the right? But yeah...right up here, I’m sure of it,” Alec replies.

“You said the same thing twenty minutes ago. I feel like I’m driving in circles!” she exclaims, her frustration finally bubbling over.

“Sorry, sorry,” he mumbles. “It’s been awhile since I came to visit, and it’s foggy out. I’m just a bit disoriented, that’s all.”

 

She immediately feels bad for snapping at him, hearing the weariness in his voice. After all, it’s not like they just came up to Scotland on a lark, they’re here for his mum’s funeral. “No, I’m sorry. I’m just tired, that’s all. Didn’t mean to snap at you.”

“There!” he says, leaning forwards and pointing. “It’s right there on the right, after the lamp post. You can just barely see the sign.”

She has to slam her foot on the brake to avoid missing the driveway, which is already lined with parked cars. “Sign says no vacancy. Hope that doesn’t mean us. Did you tell anyone we were coming?”

“They knew I was coming,” he replies, his voice clipped. “Doesn’t look like there’s many open spaces left to park though, you might have to squeeze in by the bushes over there.”

She chews her lip and frets. “I don’t know, that barely looks like a spot. I know my car is small, but I don’t want to mess it up, it’s the only car we’ve got right now and-”

“Just let me park it then. I used to valet for my dad sometimes, I’m good at fitting into tight spaces,” he interrupts. “Here, it’ll only take me a second. Otherwise we’ll have to park down the road and walk, and it’s too dark and shitty out tonight.”

She debates making a coy comment about his ability to fit into tight spaces, but by the time she thinks of something more clever than cheesy the moment has passed. “Sure, whatever, park the car,” she acquiesces, engaging the parking brake and unbuckling her seatbelt. If it’ll get her to the loo faster, she’s all for it.

“Blimey, could you sit any closer to the wheel?” he comments, adjusting the seat and disengaging the brake. “I never realized how short you are.”

“Not all of us have legs that go on for days,” she shoots back with no malice in her voice.

“That’s me, Mr. Stringbean,” he replies sarcastically. He maneuvers carefully into the spot, but she can hear the branches scraping across the glass of the passenger window. “There, see, told you we’d fit.”

“Alec, we’re practically in the bush,” she points out, stifling a laugh.

“Nah, it’s fine,” he replies, adjusting the wheel. Branches scrape loudly against the glass, and a startled looking squirrel drops onto the windscreen. It chatters at them angrily before picking up whatever morsel it had been holding and scampering away. Alec glances over at her sheepishly. “Alright...so yes, we’re um...we’re definitely in the bush. Sorry about that. Think you have enough room to get out?”

She guffaws so hard her sides start to ache and tears roll down her cheeks. After a moment he joins her, and their laughter peels through the car, becoming more hysterical. Whatever lingering tension there had been in the wake of the fight with Jimmy Stone evaporates, and they laugh together until they’re both gasping weakly and clutching at each other. It’s a miracle she manages not to wet herself, she’s giggling so hard.

“Shit, I needed that,” she says, wiping the tears from her eyes with the back of her hand.

“Yeah, me too,” he chuckles. “Life is so absurd sometimes, you have to laugh to keep from crying. Anyway...best get in there, before I change my mind and chicken out.”

“You nervous about telling your family about us?” she asks.

“I’d be lying if I said no,” he admits. “I’m mostly worried about how Daisy will take it. I know she hopes me and Tess might get back together, be a family again, but that’s never going to happen. On top of losing her gran...I just don’t know. It’s going to be rough either way. The timing couldn’t be worse.”

“It’ll be fine,” she says in what she hopes is a reassuring tone. She’s nervous, too. What if they hate her? She’s imagined a dozen different scenarios in her head where things could become horribly awkward alarmingly fast, and she’s sure he’s probably done the same. Best not to think about it maybe, lest it become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“Hope you’re right,” he says, swinging his door open and getting out of the car.

She tries to help him with the bags, but he hands her the lightest of all their things and insists on carrying the rest himself. “Beautiful house,” she comments, taking in the architecture as they walk up the path. “They must have saved for a long time to afford such a lovely place.”

“Yeah, it was built at the end of the 1800s by some well-known architect, his name escapes me, though,” Alec replies. “Mum and dad got it for a pittance because all the locals think it’s haunted. It was on the market for years and they couldn’t sell it, so the bank just kept reducing the price and when it got really low they were finally able to buy it and convert it into a guest house.”

“Is it though?” she asks, pausing to look up and examine the windows, almost all of which are dark save for one on the first floor. It’s a beautiful house but this late at night, shrouded in the darkness and fog, it’s easy to imagine that there might be spirits lurking about.

“Is it what?”

“Haunted?”

Alec scoffs. “Don’t be ridiculous, of course not. There’s no such thing as ghosts.”

“If you say so,” she says, glancing back up at the windows, not entirely convinced. She’s not really surprised by his answer, not after the conversation they had weeks ago about religion and his overall dismissive attitude towards it. Once upon a time though he did believe, and she still wonders what thing was so awful that it caused him to turn away from his faith. She’s never had a strong opinion on the supernatural either way, though watching those silly ghost hunting shows on the telly is one of her guilty pleasures. The exaggerated gasps and exclamations every time a board creaks are more hilarious than frightening to her.

They reach the front door and after some mild acrobatics on Alec’s part, he manages to hold it open for her without dropping their bags. They step into what appears to be the lobby, which is deserted save for an older gentleman sitting behind a desk reading the Bible. She knows who he is right away, there’s no ignoring the obvious resemblance.

“Dad,” Alec says stiffly, dropping their bags to the floor.

“Son,” the man replies, closing the book and getting to his feet. “I wasn’t sure if you would come. Not after-”

“Of course I came,” Alec cuts him off, his voice gruff. “But not for you. I’m here for mum, and for myself. This isn’t a gesture of forgiveness, just so we’re clear. It’s late, do you have a room for us or not? I told Leenie I was coming, she said she’d let you know. But Rose is exhausted from driving, so if there isn’t space we’ll need to go down the road.”

The tension in the room is palatable, and she clears her throat awkwardly. “I hate to be rude, but I really need the loo. Long drive and all that.”

“Of course dear, it’s that door right there,” Alec’s father says, gesturing behind him.

As graceful as possible, she makes a beeline for the door and slips inside, shutting it behind her. Even though she isn’t trying to eavesdrop intentionally, she can still hear the two of them whispering furiously through the apparently paper thin walls, and her anxiety grows as the pitch of their whispers edges closer towards quiet shouting. It’s been barely five minutes and she can already tell that Alec is amped up and upset, which doesn’t bode well for the coming days. There’s evidently some bad blood between him and his father, but she hasn’t the faintest idea why because of how tight lipped he’s been about his past. She hadn’t wanted to pry, but now she’s starting to wish she’d asked a few more questions. Hating herself just a little bit for it, she presses her ear to the wall and listens.

“Your sister didn’t tell me you were bringing a friend,” Alec’s father says, a subtle hint of questioning and maybe judgment in his tone.

“She’s not a friend,” Alec replies flatly.

“Girlfriend? That’s okay...I guess. Wish you would’ve warned me ahead of time, might be a bit awkward with Tess here. Your room is right across the hall from hers.”

“It’s really heartwarming to know you care more about my ex-wife’s feelings than mine. It’s not as though she repeatedly cheated on me or almost ruined my career or anything.”

“Now Alec, that’s unfair. You know that isn’t true, I care about your feelings too. I just don’t want things to be awkward for Daisy or anyone else. This week is going to be hard enough for everyone without you bringing your new girlfriend into the mix.”

“Well then I guess it’s a good thing she’s not my girlfriend. She’s my wife.”

So there goes that cat out of the bag. Nervously, she holds her breath and waits for his father’s reply.

“Does anyone know about this?”

“Of course not. It’s not like anyone in the family ever bothers calling me, except when they want something or there’s bad news. Leenie calling to tell me mum had died didn’t seem like the best time to drop the remarriage bomb. And speaking of Leenie, if she hadn’t called me about mum, would anyone have even bothered to? It’s like Andie all over again. You couldn’t be arsed to call me yourself, eh?”

Rose cocks her head. Andie? Alec’s never mentioned an Andie before. The more she listens, the more questions she has.

“So you thought the best time to introduce your family to your new wife was at your mother’s funeral? She’s half your age, for Pete’s sake! And don’t think I didn’t notice what she’s trying to hide under that tunic. Are you having some sort of mid-life crisis? “

“She is not half my age, and even if she were, what difference does it make? I had to bring someone with me for moral support, lord knows I won’t get any of that from you lot!”

“Keep your voice down, people are sleeping.”

“Yes, everyone but you. And why aren’t you asleep, dad? The guilt keeping you up for once? Or are you even capable of feeling bad for the things you’ve done?”

“I answer to God son, not you. Anyway, this isn’t about me, it’s about your daughter and your sisters, and what’s best for everyone. We’re laying your mother to rest, this is going to be hard enough on everyone. Maybe don’t mention that you got remarried, just say she’s a friend or something. I don’t want to upset people any more than they already are by making this about you.”

“Great job dodging the question, you sound like a suspect in an interrogation. Anyway, I don’t trade in lies like the rest of you do. I love Rose and she makes me happy. I’m not ashamed of her and I’m not going to lie. We love each other, that should be enough for you.”

Realizing she’s been in the bathroom much longer than necessary, she flushes and hastily washes her hands. The sound of running water muffles the rest of their conversation, so she has no idea what Alec’s dad says in reply, if anything. She feels grimey for eavesdropping in the first place, now she’s just more confused than ever and can’t ask questions without admitting she was listening in. Whatever family dynamic the Hardys have going on, it sure as hell seems dysfunctional from the outside. She has no room to judge though, considering her own mother is still in the dark concerning just about everything going on in her life right now. Clearing her throat to avoid surprising either man, she exits the bathroom and stands stiffly to the side.

Alec glances over at her and picks their bags back up. “Perfect timing. Let’s go upstairs. It’s been a long day,” he says with a theatrical calmness, the speed of his movements broadcasting an anxious desire to get away from his father. He doesn’t even look over his shoulder to see if she is following before power walking up the stairs like a man possessed.

“Uh, goodnight,” she says, waving awkwardly. Alec’s father just shakes his head and turns away. Right. Well, that’s a bit rude, but she figures that might have less to do with her and more to do with whatever animosity is brewing between himself and his son. The prospect of spending the next few days here is becoming increasingly more bleak. This encounter had been unpleasant enough, she can’t imagine it’s going to get any better. Hopefully Alec’s entire family isn’t as judgmental and seemingly unkind as his dad. She really wishes she knew what the history was there. As it stands, she sorta feels like she’s walking onto a mine field with no protection and no idea of where the mines are buried. It’s an uncomfortable position to be in.

Up on the second floor, Alec curses and mutters under his breath as he fumbles with the room key. Finally getting the door open, he drops their bags on the floor, flicks on the lightswitch, and flops dramatically onto the bed.

“Kill me now,” he mumbles into the sheets, his voice muffled.

“Not a chance,” she replies, kicking the door gently shut behind her. She squeezes onto the bed next to him and runs her fingers soothingly through the hair at the nape of his neck. “Anything you want to talk about? Seems like your dad upset you.”

Alec rolls onto his back and stares up at the ceiling. “He’s just being his typical self. I don’t know what else I expected. Every time he opens his mouth, I somehow end up feeling like shit.”

“Why, what’d he say?” she asks, grateful for the in to ask him a few questions without arousing suspicions.

“He sorta implied I was being selfish for bringing you here because no one knows about us and they’re going to be upset when they find out. But it’s not like there’s a great time to tell your teenage daughter you got remarried. And I don’t know why anyone else would be upset about it, it’s not like either of my sister’s were ever keen on Tess. Do you think I’m being selfish?” he asks, looking up at her.

“No. But that’s the thing about always putting others before yourself-when you finally do put yourself first, the people who always took you for granted want to call you selfish for doing it,” she says gently. “But she was your mum too, you have a right to grieve, and to try and cope with it. You can’t always worry about how everyone else is handling things while you just bottle up your own shit. It’s not healthy.”

“Suppose you’re right,” he sighs.

“I’m here for you, Alec. If you want me to stay up in the room during the funeral or pretend we’re just friends, I will. If it will make things easier for you. I understand if you don’t want to tell your daughter right now.”

“No,” he says vehemently. “I’m not lying about this. There’s no point in it. You’re already here, I already told my dad we were married, and he already suspects you’re pregnant. If I lie about it now, people are going to find out and be even angrier that I didn’t say anything. I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t. Of course my dad had to know that when he told me I should lie about it. Bloody twat.”

“So what do you want to do? I’m sure people are going to ask who I am, what do you want me to say?”

“I guess tell them the truth, if they ask. If they don’t bring it up, I probably wouldn’t say anything. Might be easier that way. Ah, but I don’t know,” he groans, scrubbing at his face with his hands. “This is just shite. I don’t know what to do. Can’t say I’ve ever been in a situation like this before. I don’t want to lie about us, I don’t want you to feel like I’m ashamed of you. Ideally, you would’ve met my family under different circumstances and the ones that matter would love you because you’re amazing.”

She smiles. “You’re sweet. But I’m curious, because you never really talk about them-who in your family ‘matters’? Whose opinion are you worried about, besides your daughter? Are you close to anyone?”

“Not really, not anymore. My sisters and I were a lot closer before...nevermind.”

“No no, please tell me. You were closer to your sisters before what? What happened?”

He takes a deep breath, and she can see him ticking over whatever it is in his head. “It’s...complicated. I don’t know if I want to get into it right now. It’s late, and we’ve both had a really long day. I don’t know about you, but I’m wrung out emotionally.”

She takes his hand and laces her fingers through his. “I don’t want to push you, but I want you to be able to talk to me. There’s still so much I don’t know about you, so much we don’t know about each other. I unloaded on you about Jimmy today, can whatever it is really be worse than that whole mess?”

He chuckles mirthlessly. “You have no idea.”

Now she’s more curious than ever. “Alec, what is it? What happened to you?”

He sighs, and squeezes her hand. “Listen, I want to tell you, it’s just...it’s hard. It’s hard to talk about, which is why I rarely do. It brings up a lot of bad and painful memories, and it makes me angry, and according to my doctor I need to work on the whole anger thing or it may kill me. And even though it happened so long ago, whenever I talk about it it feels like it just happened yesterday and the wounds feel fresh.”

“Is there anything I can do?”

“You’re already doing it. Just being here with me, being patient with me...that means more than you could possibly know. For now though, I just want to get out of these nasty, sweaty clothes and try to get some rest,” he says wearily, sitting up so he can unbutton his shirt.

She doesn’t press the issue, just feels slightly sad as she silently changes into her pajamas. Everything they’ve been through together these past few months, everything they’ve shared, and he’s still reluctant to talk to her about his family and past. She’s married to a man who might as well be a stranger, for all she really knows about him. It kills her inside because she’s usually so good at connecting and empathizing with other people and she still can’t seem to break through all the walls he’s built up around himself. Maybe it has nothing to do with her at all, maybe it’s more about his own baggage than anything she’s doing wrong, but she can’t help but feel like a bit of a failure because for some reason he still doesn’t feel like he can open up to her.

Chapter Text

He doesn’t know how long they’ve been lying here together in bed, but it seems like an eternity. In spite of a weariness that is penetrating and bone deep, his brain refuses to shut down, a jumble of errant thoughts tumbling around his mind like stones caught in the pounding surf of a tumultuous sea. He’s certainly wearing the sharp edges off them though, at least in a metaphorical sense. He can’t stop thinking. Thinking about how satisfying it had felt when his fist connected with Jimmy’s face. Thinking about how he’s going to shatter his teenage daughter’s dreams of having her family back. Thinking about his mum, and how she’ll never meet Rose or her unborn grandchild. Thinking about what’s left of his family, and how in the hell they got to this place where they barely ever talk.

And that was the crux of the issue, wasn’t it? His family, they never talked, never about anything important. Both of his parents had a nasty habit of being in denial when something would go wrong. Either they’d flat out pretend it wasn’t happening, or they would downplay the seriousness of the issue and tell them all to pray on it. All those prayers, and their family, their lives, were a complete and utter shitshow. Some things will never change.

He glances over at Rose’s still form and remembers the promise he had made to himself a long time ago to not be like his dad as a person, but especially not as a husband or father. And yet here he is, still holding out, keeping secrets when Rose has been nothing but open and accepting. He knows it must bother her how little he shares, especially when she herself has been so forthcoming about her past. Talking about Jimmy couldn’t have been easy for her, but she still did it, laid herself completely bare and proved just how much faith and trust she has in him. Him! Of all people. Sighing, he rolls closer towards her and wraps his arm around her, letting his fingers spread over the swell of her stomach. He has to do better, for her and their baby. He knows she would say he has to do better for himself too, but he still can’t quite bring himself to believe he deserves it. If he doesn’t tell her the truth about what happened when he was younger, it’s going to make this whole situation more complicated and uncomfortable for her in the long run, and he can’t bear the thought of possibly causing her pain because of his own hang ups and stubbornness. It’s better she finds out about Andie from him than someone else. God forbid his father or Annie be the one that would bring it up.

“You awake?” he whispers, the coward part of him hoping she doesn’t respond so he has an excuse to keep putting the conversation off.

“Hmmm? Yeah, kinda. You okay?” she replies through a yawn.

“I can’t sleep. Got too much on my mind,” he admits.

“You want me to make you some tea?” she offers, half sitting up. “I thought I saw an electric kettle plugged in over there.”

“If it’s made in an electric kettle, can you really call it tea?” he muses out loud.

She chuckles softly. “Spoken like a true Brit.”

“Are you having trouble sleeping?” he asks, propping himself up on his elbow.

“Yeah. Just a bit anxious, that’s all. I want things to go smoothly with your family, but I’m worried how they’re going to react when they find out about us,” she confesses.

“Yeah, me too,” he replies. He draws in a breath and slowly exhales, trying to slow his pounding heart. “Rose...can I tell you something?”

“Well yeah, course you can,” she answers, her tone curious.

“You remember our first real date, at the curry place? You asked about me and I told you about my family. Well...I wasn’t 100% truthful when I told you I was the middle child and only boy. I’m actually, I mean I had...I had a twin. But she’s gone now,” he says, the words coming out in a rush.

“I’m so sorry. What happened?” she asks, her voice radiating sympathy as she reaches out for his hand and threads her fingers through his own. If the admission that he had another sister has shocked her, she isn’t letting on.

He grimaces. “This is harder than I thought. Talking about it. It still makes my blood boil, thinking of the fuckery my father pulled. If he hadn’t been such a stubborn, intolerant arsehole...things could be so different. Andie might still be alive.”

“Just take your time, I’m listening,” she encourages, giving his hand a gentle squeeze.

He knows she can’t really see him in the dark, but he finds himself smiling at her anyway. She is so kind, so infinitely patient with his salty old arse, he knows she’s going to be a brilliant mum to their baby. And then of course there’s that stabbing pang again, knowing his mother and sister will never get to meet her. The least he can do is tell Rose about Andie, how brilliant she was, too.

“Andie was born Andrew,” he begins slowly, as though he’s testing the waters of his own memory. “We were fraternal twins. Everyone always thought we were identical when we were young, we looked so much alike. We used to mess with our teachers, pretend to be the other, stuff most identical twins do, I guess. I always knew my sister was different, but I didn’t care. We were twins, I just loved her and wanted her to be happy. When we became teenagers she started going by Andie, she grew out her hair, started wearing makeup, started dressing differently. And my father...well, it went over about as well as you’d expect it to with a hyper religious, close-minded bigot. He refused to call her Andie, refused to treat her like a daughter rather than a son, wouldn’t let her hang out with guys because god forbid, would slap and punch her when he was angry, same as he did to the rest of us. If it weren’t for my mother, I’m sure he would’ve kicked her out when we were teenagers, but as it was he just settled for making her miserable. He made a point of telling her frequently that there was nothing wrong with her other than the fact that she was a sinner, and that she was being selfish and immature defiling the perfectly good body god had gave her. You can probably imagine, or maybe you can’t, but yeah...it was awful for her. As soon as we turned 18, she moved out with friends and never came back. I know she wasn’t ready to be on her own, she told me as much, but she felt like she had no other choice at the time. Being around our dad was no good for her, she was just so depressed that he couldn’t accept her, and he was an abusive piece of shit hiding behind the church to boot.”

“What about your mum and sisters?” Rose asks.

“Mum always sided with dad, think she was too afraid not to. She never gave Andie a hard time like dad did, but Andie would ask for help or advice about..well, womanly things, I guess, and mum would always put her off or tell her to ask her sisters. Leenie and I were the only ones who supported her transitioning. Annie didn’t get it, a lot of our relatives didn’t, either. Leenie and I would see Andie sometimes or meet for lunch and whatnot, but she refused to come home or be around our father.”

“I don’t blame her, that sounds awful,” Rose says softly. “I almost hate to ask..but what happened to her?”

He rubs at the corners of his eyes furiously, because he knows if he allows himself the release of crying right now that he won’t be able to stop until all the pent of grief of the past decade comes pouring out in the form of tears. “About ten years ago Andie went missing, in London. Mum was actually the one who reported her missing-after Andie moved out, her and mum would talk on the phone a lot. I think Andie knew that in her own way our mum did support her, but couldn’t say so because of fear of my father. But yeah...when Andie hadn’t phoned home in a while and no one in the family could get ahold of her, they filed a missing person report. But when they found her body a few weeks later, floating in the Thames, my parents were the only ones who got notified. My father buried her without telling me or anyone else in the family, no funeral, no nothing, and a headstone with the wrong fucking name on it. Even in death, he couldn’t show her enough respect to use the name she chose for herself. I only found out that my sister had died because my mother slipped and said something to Leenie and she called to tell me what had happened. But anyway...that’s why there’s so much animosity, that’s why no one in my family speaks anymore. Leenie and I were furious when we found out what he’d done, and Annie took dad’s side. And my mother...well, she was just as much a victim of my father as the rest of us. All of us had lived in terror of him, and my mother and Andie always got the worst of it. I didn’t really blame her, but it put a big strain on our relationship.”

“Holy fuck,” Rose exclaims.

“I did tell you it was complicated.”

“No, it’s not that,” she replies angrily. “Your father. I just...what the hell? I want to punch him in his stupid, awful face. No wonder you hate him so much, I just...wow.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner, I know I should’ve. But I thought you should know before you meet my family, just in case it comes up,” he tells her, swiping furiously at his eyes again. Goddamnit, it appears he’s going to cry after all.

She brushes the tears off his cheeks with her thumbs and leans in to wrap her arms around him. “Don’t apologize, I understand why you didn’t want to talk about it before. Thanks for trusting me enough to tell me,” she whispers, her breath warm on the side of his neck as she lets him sob into her hair.

No prying questions, no sarcastic remarks about how long it had taken him to tell her the truth, no grumbling at him for soaking her hair in salt water. Just her, listening and offering him comfort. Everything about this encounter just highlights for him how very different his new wife is to his ex, and he is once again overwhelmed with gratefulness at having found her. He wishes he were a more eloquent man, so he could tell her in words just how much she means to him, what a balm she has been to his broken heart. Instead, he finds her lips with his own and kisses her until they’re both slightly breathless. “I love you,” he murmurs into her open mouth.

“I love you too,” she sighs, sliding her hands over his shoulders and down the bare skin of his back.

He hasn’t realized just how cool it is in their room until he feels the heat of her fingers pressing against the small of his back. But it’s just not enough, he wants to, no, he needs to feel every inch of her naked skin pressed warm and flush against his own. It may be cliche, but to unwrap himself from so many thoughts of death he finds himself craving the welcoming physical comfort of her body, flushed and swollen with the life growing inside. The heat of his kiss alone must be enough to convey this message though, as he feels her fingers leave his back to skim the waistband of his pants.

He lets her push him down against the bed and pepper his chest with kisses, the ends of her hair tickling his bare skin as she does. When she reaches the puckered pink and white scar from his pacemaker surgery, she plants the softest, most gentle kiss there, almost as though she’s afraid of ripping his wounds back open again, both physically and metaphorically. He watches with giddy anticipation as she leans back and lifts her nightshirt over her head, leaving her naked but for her knickers, a tiny scrap of soft black silk. Watching her undress is better than unwrapping a much anticipated Christmas present, and when she moves to straddle him he’s already half hard. There’s only two very thin layers of fabric in between them now, and the sensation is enough to nearly drive him mad. Then, she starts to grind against him, and he can only groan helplessly at the delicious torment she’s inflicting upon him. Just when he thinks he can no longer bear it, she leans down and fastens her lips around his nipple, sucking until the tiny nub is stiff and standing up straight. In his pants, his cock twitches.

“I want you inside me,” she says, her voice low and husky with desire as she moves to peel off her knickers.

“I think we’re probably on the same page there,” he manages to grind out, and he can’t free himself from his pants fast enough.

Once they’re both naked, she crawls back on top of him, straddling him so that the tip of his cock is just barely brushing against her entrance. Teasingly, she bucks her hips, giving him just a taste of her slippery warmth before she grips him firmly by the base and slides the head of his cock against her clit. She does this a few times, drawing out the torment as much for her own enjoyment as for his. When she finally stops teasing and sinks down onto him completely, they both sigh with something like relief. It’s a struggle, not to just come inside of her then and there, but like every time with Rose, he wants to make it last. Lying back and letting her take charge, he’s in the perfect position to watch her bite her lips, her pert and perfect breasts bouncing as she rocks and grinds against him, seeking her own pleasure. The sight of her like this, her curvaceous body ripe with his seed and flushed with pleasure, could probably sustain his fantasies for millennia. She’s radiant and sensual and flawless, and best of all, she is his and he is hers. They fit together so perfectly, like two puzzle pieces that were always meant to go together.

“Rose…,” he groans. “Gonna come.”

“Wait for me,” she pants breathlessly. “I’m almost there.”

Somehow, he manages to obey her request, finding a steel resolve and a command over his own body that he hadn’t previously realized he possessed. It’s only after she clenches tight around him and cries out her release that he gives himself permission to tumble over the edge after her. He doesn’t pause to think about how loud they are being until he hears the sound of angry knocking at their door.

“Shit,” she says, her expression like that of a child caught with their hand in the cookie jar.

“Here, get under the covers, I’ll get it,” he says quietly, although at this point it’s a bit like closing the barn door after the horse has already bolted. The angry knocking comes again. “Alright, alright, keep your pants on, I’m coming!”

“I’ll say,” Rose whispers, suppressing a giggle.

He can’t even bring himself to give her a dirty look as he slips his pants back on, instead just smiles and waggles his eyebrows conspiratorially as he walks over to the door. “Yes?” he asks, yanking it open to reveal his ex-wife, looking irate on the other side.

And just like that, he’s gone from heaven to hell.

Chapter Text

Tess is standing in the hallway, tapping her foot and glowering at him like he’s a much resented and senile old mutt who’s just gone piddle on her favorite throw rug. “Bloody hell, Alec, if you’re going to wank at 3am the morning of your mother’s funeral, the least you could do is keep the volume on the porn turned down,” she says accusingly. “Lucky Daisy is sleeping downstairs with her cousins or you might’ve woken her up!”

He laughs at the absurdity of her statement-he hasn’t watched porn since before his police academy days. “I wasn’t watching porn, but okay.”

“I heard a woman’s voice,” she states matter of factly, hands on her hips.

It’s a gesture he’s familiar with from all the fights they’ve had over the years, her with hands on hips, one foot and her chest thrust out in front of her. It’s sort of her signature move to let people know she means business, right before she goes for the metaphorical throat. Perhaps that’s another one of the many reasons the two of them never really worked well together-both of them are a bit alpha and much too confrontational for intimate relationships. “So you hear sounds of passion coming from my room and your first assumption is that I must be watching porn? How pathetic do you think I am?”

“Well I didn’t figure you’d be the type to have a prostitute come to your parents guesthouse,” she says, raising her eyebrows. “Although, I suppose anything is possible…”

Realization dawns on him, and he claps his hands to his cheeks. “Ooooooohhhh,” he says through a giddy grin, gleefully drawing the word out. “You’re such a self-obsessed narcissist, it hadn’t even occurred to you that I might’ve moved on. In your mind, it’s more likely that I’m wanking to porn or fucking a prostitute than involved romantically with a woman that isn’t you. Goddamn, I thought this divorced fucked me up, but at least I’m not completely deluded and full of myself like you are.”

“Fuck you!” she practically snarls, stabbing him in the center of the chest with her finger.

“Hey!” Rose interjects, coming up from behind him still wrapped in the bedsheet. “Don’t you put your hands on his chest like that, he just had pacemaker surgery!”

Alec gets to see the moment that Tess gets a good look at Rose and registers just how much younger and prettier she is, and even though it’s incredibly petty it feels fucking glorious to see her expression falter. Maybe he should feel ashamed for thinking this way about the mother of one of his children, but all he can remember is the searing numbness in his gut when he had found out about the affair and Tess losing the locket. This, right now, is an exoneration schadenfreude cocktail and it’s goddamn refreshing and life affirming.

“Who the hell is she and why does she know about this surgery when Daisy and I don’t?” Tess asks, her tone wounded.

She has a name and she’s going to slap you if you keep talking about her like she isn’t standing right here,” Rose says indignantly. “I’m Rose, his wife, now who the bloody hell are you?”

The penny drops, and Tess’s jaw with it. He could say a lot of negative, nitpicky things about his ex-wife’s appearance, but one thing he had always admired about her were her eyes, which are large and expressive, and currently flickering with emotion. Judging by the look on her face and the way the corner of her left eye is twitching, this is literally the absolute last scenario she had ever imagined in her head. She looks terrified, shocked, and furious, and he imagines it’s because she’s realizing just how little power she has over him anymore. After years of marriage, he can tell all this just by looking at her eyes.

“Is this some kind of joke, to get back at me for the Dave thing? You’re putting me on, right?” Tess asks him, her eyes silently pleading for him to deny the truth.

“It’s not a joke,” he says flatly. “You moved on, and so did I. I would say I’m sorry you had to find out this way, but I’m really not, not after what you put me through.”

“You immature bastard! What the hell is wrong with you? You got remarried without saying a word to me or your daughter?” Tess accuses him, fire snapping in her eyes.

“Oh I’m sorry, I didn’t realize I needed your permission to move on, seeing as we’re fucking divorced and all. I don’t remember you asking me for permission before you went and started fucking Dave behind my back. I don’t owe you shite beyond politeness when it comes to our daughter,” he intones calmly. “Maybe you should keep your voice down and go back to bed, unless of course you want everyone in my family to overhear this conversation.”

“Let them overhear it. You’re a shite husband and a shite father!” she spits back at him.

“Oh, that’s rich, coming from the bleedin’ homewrecker!” Rose says snidely. “If anyone’s a shitty spouse or parent, it’s you! Alec is a great husband and a great dad, you are the one who lied and cheated.”

“Oh you naive little tart,” Tess says scornfully. “How old are you? Twenty, twenty-one tops? Given Mr. Pitiful here was still trying to get back with me as of a few weeks ago, you can’t have been married for more than five minutes. Give it a year or two, if you can even make it that long. Get to really know who he is and then let’s see if you’re still so bloody enamoured with him. You don’t even know the half of it, I guarantee you.”

Rose inhales and pinches the bridge of her nose before unleashing a torrent of angry words. “Listen Bitchzilla, in case you missed the goddamn memo, his mum just died, so whatever bullshit axe you want to grind, save it for never. He doesn’t need or deserve this shit from you right now while he’s grieving, or ever again, for that matter. You’re divorced, he doesn’t owe you anything, so step the fuck off. I’m sorry our too loud porno shagging woke you up, now please go the fuck back to sleep, you need all the beauty rest you can get because the ugly in you goes straight down to the bone, you frigid, old cow!”

Tess’s eyes widen and her mouth flops open like a dead fish. She’s clearly not used to being spoken to in such a manner-usually she’s the one hurling the verbal barbs. “Are you gonna let her talk to me like that?” she asks him.

“I’m her husband, not her father, it’s not my job to police what she says. She’s entitled to her opinion, and frankly, I’m inclined to agree,” he answers, wrapping his arm protectively around Rose’s waist. He’s more than just inclined to agree-seeing the fire in her eyes when she came to his defense has lit a fire elsewhere within him. Rose, flushed pink and passionate with anger, is positively alluring.

Tess’s eyes narrow, as though she’s reading his mind. “We’re married.”

“We were married,” he supplies helpfully. “And now we’re not, because you treat me and everyone else exactly the same way-like rubbish. You dish it out, but you sure can’t take it, apparently. What is it that they say about people who live in glass houses and throwing stones?”

Tess throws down the last card she has. “What about Daisy?”

“What about her?” he says, forcing himself to keep an impassive expression. He certainly doesn’t want to let on to Tess how anxious he is about Daisy’s reaction. If she knows, she’ll exploit that fact and try to use it against him.

“Did you stop and think about her at all during your little mid-life crisis? How do you think she’s going to feel when she finds out about...all this?” Tess asks, gesturing vaguely in Rose’s direction.

This time, he’s the one narrowing his eyes. “I wanted to try and work things out for the sake of keeping our family together, but you shot me down. Repeatedly. I finally got the message, I moved on, after we got divorced, and now you want to act like I’m the bad guy? You let me handle breaking the news to Daisy, this has nothing to do with you. Fuck off back to whatever hell pit you crawled out of and stop trying to use our daughter to emotionally manipulate me. I’m done letting you rent space in my head, consider this an eviction notice.”

Rose stifles a laugh with her hand, but it still comes out sounding like an amused snort. Tess’s lips are pressed so tight together that her mouth is just an angry line slashed across her face. Her gaze drifts back and forth between the two of them before finally settling on Rose. Great.

“You have no fucking idea what you’re in for, sweetheart,” she warns. “I don’t know what sort of Lifetime original sob story he spoonfed you, but he’s not the victim here. Ask him why his own daughter never returns his calls. Whatever you do, don’t have fucking kids with him, or you’ll live to regret it.”

Startled, he glances over at Rose to gauge her reaction to the comment. Her face is blank for only a moment, and then she purses her lips and smiles smugly back at Tess. “Ooops,” she says, rubbing her belly through the sheet. “Too late.”

Tess shakes her head and storms back across the hallway, into her room. “Un-fucking-believable!” she exclaims, slamming the door.

“Remind me to thank my meddlesome father for giving us the room right across from my ex,” he says dryly, shutting the door to their room. “You though...you were brilliant. Thank you for sticking up for me. I still...I still can’t believe you called her Bitchzilla.”

“What I almost called her was much worse,” she admits. “Four letters, rhymes with bunt.”

“So seemingly innocent, and yet so filthy a mouth and mind,” he chuckles, pulling her against him. “I shouldn’t like it, but I do.”

“Hey, you don’t grow up on a council estate in London without learning how to throw some mad shade when necessary,” she says seriously. “And it was definitely necessary, she was pressing both of our buttons.”

“How about I press your buttons?” he suggests, thumbing her nipples through the thin material of the bedsheet.

“Hmmm, I don’t know, aren’t you worried I might get a bit loud?” she purrs coyly.

“I was counting on it, actually,” he replies, pushing her gently down onto the bed.

* * * * *

“Man, I would murder someone for a cigarette right now,” Rose says, still laying in a post-coital heap with her head resting on his abdomen. “Shagged twice and handed a bitch her own ass in the same hour, a smoke right about now would be perfect.”

He ruffles her hair affectionately. “Well I know you didn’t really have much of a choice in the matter, but I’m glad you quit. Tess smokes, it used to drive me barmy. She never did it in the house, but her hair and her clothes always reeked of it, nevermind kissing her. Like licking an ashtray.”

“I only picked it up because Jimmy smoked. The habit outlived the relationship, unfortunately,” she sighs. “I hate myself for missing it when I know I’m better off for it.”

“Don’t be so hard on yourself. Jimmy’s gone, and you quit smoking. We’re married, and having a baby. Life is pretty grand,” he says, and for once he’s only being half-sarcastic.

He should feel a lot more stressed than he does about the interaction with Tess, but for some reason he’s floated into that zen-like calm state you get when your life is actually such a spectacular disaster that your brain and body shuts down everything but emergency functions while you forsake all adult responsibility in favor of napping, eating nothing but fairy cakes, and binge watching the entire series of Red Dwarf in three days. Which is what he would probably be doing right now if he didn’t have Rose.

What are the odds of them bumping into both of their ex’s on the same bloody night? All things considered, it could’ve gone a lot worse, but it certainly could’ve gone a lot more smoothly than it actually did, too. Still, he feels not a shred of sorrow over punching that smug git Jimmy right in his stupid gob or inferring that Tess is a hellbeast. His life is basically a house fire right now, but here, lying in bed with Rose, feels like a port in a storm. A few months, hell, even a few weeks ago such a calmness would never have been possible for him, he’d have been losing his goddamn mind if all this had happened right after his divorce. He wants to hold onto this moment, because in the morning reality will come crashing back down and he’ll be forced to start dealing with some of his problems head on. He’s still wound up pretty tightly, but having Rose around has had such an overwhelmingly positive effect on his mood and attitude.

All that other stuff, his mum, the mess with his family, Tess, all feels extraneous right now. Five minutes before he’d gotten the call from Leenie, his boss had called him out of the blue with an offer he shouldn’t have been able to refuse and he’d told her he needed to think about it. But he hasn’t thought about it, or even mentioned it to Rose yet, because if he says it out loud it will become real and then there will be no going back. So he’s just focusing on his mother’s death, the thing he can’t change, to avoid having to make a decision that should be so simple. It would make Rose happy. That should have been reason enough to say yes on the spot, but he had hesitated, made excuses, stuttered and stalled for time. What is he really afraid of?

“Alec?”

Rose is lying on her side, half propped up and looking at him with such love and concern in her eyes and with no idea that he could’ve just said yes and given her one of the only things she had really ever asked of him. How much longer can he put off telling her? At what point does not mentioning it become a lie by omission?

He swallows thickly. “Yeah?”

She’s twirling the ends of her hair around her fingers, which suggests she’s nervous. “So...you know what your ex said earlier, about you trying to get back together with her a few weeks ago? She was lying...right?”

He snorts. “Of course she was. She’s just trying to get inside your head and stir the shit, that’s what she does. I made a couple attempts at trying to get back together and work things out, but she always shot me down.”

“But not after you and I met, right?” she asks, biting her lip nervously.

“Well, I mean not exactly. Not after we officially got together, anyway,” he answers, feeling his chest tighten like a kid who’s been accidentally shoved onto a thawing pond. “I was messed up about it. I knew she was bad for me, I guess, on some level, but I still wanted her back. We had a family. Losing that, giving up on it...it felt like a failure. So I kept trying to fix it, long after I knew it was broken.”

She sits up straight, and something in her eyes changes. “Was I a revenge fuck, Alec?”

“What? No!” he scoffs. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

“Why didn’t you give me your actual number then?” she asks, crossing her arms.

“I don’t know, because I’m a coward? Because I legitimately liked you and I sabotage everything, and that was just one way to ensure that you and I would never meet again and I could just go on with the same stupid, self-destructive coping mechanisms I always use. I still had it in my head that maybe I could fix things with Tess when I met you. You don’t know how bad I wished later that I had just had the courage to give you my actual number,” he admits.

“So you did try to get back together with her after we met,” she states accusatorily. “That was a few weeks ago.”

“It was like two months ago!” he protests. “That’s more than a few weeks.”

She rolls her eyes, but they’re brimming with tears. “I’m not sure that distinction matters. You weren’t over her when we met, or when we got together. I was just a rebound, a one night stand, and then I got pregnant. You never wanted me, or any of this, you just wanted your family back, and me and the baby are just a cheap stand in for the thing you still wish you had.”

He throws his hands up in frustration. “See this? This is exactly why she made that comment. She wants to come between us. All that stuff is in the past now. You’re the reason I realized I deserve better than someone who only ever used me to their own ends. You helped me to start getting over her and all the things she did to me. I bloody love you, okay? I really bloody love you, I’m so ridiculously, hopelessly, head over heels in love with you and our little Rosebud and I don’t regret any of this for even a minute. You weren’t a one night stand, you were serendipity. You aren’t a cheap stand in, you’re the second chance at happiness I never thought I’d have. Please don’t doubt that for even a second. Please don’t let one throw away comment from a bitter and jealous old woman undo all the happiness we’ve had together these past weeks. You’re my everything, and I bloody love you.”

“I’m sorry,” she weeps, throwing her arms around him. “I’m sorry for doubting you. I just...I don’t want to get my heart broken again, y’know? Jimmy fucked me up bad, I have so many trust issues, and your ex, she just...she got under my skin.”

“I know, I know,” he soothes, holding her tightly. “I know we’re both broken, okay? But all that shit you went through? It made you the Rose you are today. You are strong, and fierce, and passionate, and all the more beautiful for having been broken. And you helped put this foolish old man back together. We’re in this together now, remember?”

“Uh huh,” she hiccups, wiping her eyes. “I ‘member.”

“Listen,” he says seriously. “No one ever said this was easy. Marriage, like any relationship worth having, is hard. We’re a work in progress, but we’re working on it together. I’m okay with that if you are. I love you.”

“Love you too,” she murmurs, resting her head against his shoulder.

He can hear her words echoing in his head, over and over, ”I have so many trust issues” and he asks himself again why he’s so afraid of making her happy, or of telling her the truth.

Chapter Text

Rose wakes up to raging heartburn that feels like Vesuvius erupting inside of her chest, yet another one of the lovely symptoms of pregnancy that she’s become accustomed to lately. Her mum had always swore that she’d had the worst heartburn when she’d been pregnant with her, and that she had been born with a full head of blonde hair so beautiful that all the nurses had begged to touch it. This damn baby better come out with locks that’d make Rapunzel jealous, as horrendous as her heartburn’s been. Rolling onto her side in hopes that the position change will help ease her discomfort, she peers at the bedside clock with bleary eyes and swears under her breath when she sees the numbers there. She’s barely been asleep two hours, and the light of the rising sun is already beginning to stain the sky in inky hues of pink and purple. The likelihood of falling back to sleep now is practically nonexistent, given how early they need to be up for the funeral. She’s still too anxious and keyed up from the encounter with Tess, if she tries to fall back asleep now she’s just going to spend the time tossing and turning while she stresses about the short amount of time before her alarm goes off. The bitch of it is that she can’t even have more than a cup of coffee to keep her awake, not anymore. A younger, unpregnant Rose would’ve just pounded Red Bull or espresso and powered through the day, but that’s unfortunately no longer an option for her. She shuts her eyes, counts backwards in her head from a hundred, and tries to fool herself into believing that she is relaxed and calm enough to sleep.

Five minutes later, and she feels no more okay with the whole situation and still too uncomfortable to sleep. “Bollocks,” she mutters, sitting up and grabbing her crumpled pajamas off the floor. If she’s going to be miserable and awake regardless, she might as well sneak outside to call Jake before he goes to work and before Alec’s relatives wake up and start milling around and asking questions she’s not prepared to answer. With any luck, she can find somewhere private to vent to her best friend about bumping into both Jimmy and Tess in the same night and sneak back in without anyone being the wiser.

With cat-like stealth, she puts on her pajamas, creeps out of their room, and tiptoes down the stairs like a teenager sneaking out after curfew. The lobby and first floor appears to be deserted, and she breathes a sigh of relief. Part of her expected to find Alec’s dad still keeping vigil at the front desk, but apparently even he had decided to retire for the night. After poking around a bit to make sure she’s completely alone, she uses a door in the kitchen to slip out onto the veranda. The morning air, fragrant with honeysuckle, has a slight chill in it. Thin tendrils of fog creep along the ground and wrap around the trees and plants in the garden. It’s a bit eerie, but also quiet and peaceful. She swears though that she can smell cigarette smoke.

“Hello?” she calls out uneasily. She doesn’t see anyone on the veranda, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t be hiding in the garden. “Anyone there?”

Nothing, of course. Who would be hiding in the garden in the fog? Tess? Jimmy Stone? Stupid. She’s losing it, getting paranoid. Probably a combination of hormones and lack of sleep. Shaking her head, she pulls out her mobile and dials Jake.

“Your spidey senses must be tingling,” he says when he answers. “I was just about to text you to see if you got to Scotland okay.”

“Oh, I got here,” she replies, twisting her hair around the fingers of her free hand. “But definitely not okay. Nowhere remotely near okay. Probably not even in the same postcode as okay. At least two buses and a taxi ride away from okay.”

“Bloody hell, what happened?” he asks, concern in his voice. “Trouble in paradise?”

“Something like that,” she says, glancing around. With the near silence and chilly fog, this feels more like the beginning of a horror movie than paradise.

“Well don’t leave your old buddy Jake hangin’ here, tell me. I gotta catch the tube shortly or I’m gonna be late.”

“Well for starters, my husband punched Jimmy Stone in the face at a rest area outside of Blackpool. That was actually pretty great though, can’t lie,” she says, biting back a half smile.

“Hold up, he did what? I thought Jimmy was in Australia!” he exclaims.

She chuckles, picturing his surprised expression in her head. Jake is great for making faces. “So did I. But yeah...Jimmy’s apparently back from Australia, and the fucker didn’t even have the common decency to go and get devoured by dingos. And because my life is apparently a reality TV show, he just happened to be at the same rest area as us at the same time. He recognized me, tried to start some shit, and Alec just hauled off and punched him right in the mouth. Totally laid Jimmy out and pretty much told him he’d use his official powers to destroy him if he ever came after us again.”

“Holy shit.”

“I think that’s putting it mildly. I wish I could say that was the craziest thing that happened last night, but it was just the beginning. One bleedin’ shitshow after another. I’m a dumpster fire, Jake,” she laments.

“I can’t believe DI Prim and Proper punched a bloke in the face for you and then went all bad cop on him. I’m a little aroused just thinking about it.”

She rolls her eyes. “I just told you I’m a dumpster fire, you’re supposed to be comforting me and telling me how mature and put together I am, not talking about how men punching other men turns you on.”

“You’re so mature and put together, you get all the gold stars for adulting. And also, don’t even lie, you were turned on by his manly display of valor, too.”

“Fine,” she admits. “Maybe just a little bit. I mean...we did shag twice last night.”

“Ooo la la!”

“Stop it. That’s not why I called you,” she chides him. “The dumpster fire, remember?”

“You’re no fun. Fine, fine, the dumpster fire, go on.”

“We finally get to the guest house, Alec and his dad have a little tiff, and he storms upstairs to our room. He ends up spilling his guts to me, tells me the whole fucked up history of his family, and it’s just nuts Jake, seriously fucked up shit. Apparently he had a twin sister who died, but it’s really complicated and a long story and I know you need to get to work, so I’ll try to wrap it up,” she apologizes. “Anyway, long story short, we spent all day revealing our deep dark secrets and then we comfort shagged so hard that it woke up his ex-wife who was sleeping in the room across the hall.”

Jake inhales sharply. “Girl, lemme text my boss that I’m gonna be a few minutes late opening the salon, I gotta hear the rest of this.”

“I don’t wanna get you fired,” she frets, worrying her thumbnail with her teeth.

“Pfffft, I’m the most popular hair dresser there, he’s not going to fire the star attraction. Plus, I’m sleeping with him, so there’s that too.”

She laughs, both incredulous and not at all surprised. “You’re sleeping with your boss?”

“I have been, which you would know if you called more often. A lot has been going on since you’ve been gone.”

“Sorry,” she says guiltily. She knows Jake isn’t trying to give her a hard time, but it’s the truth. She hasn’t been calling anyone-not him, not Shareen, and not her mum, either. She’s a shite friend and a shite daughter and she knows it, even if Jake is too kind to come out and say it directly. “I’ll try to be better at staying in touch.”

“If you feel that bad you can make it up to me by hosting me at your beach house one of these days, like you promised.”

“Think I can manage that,” she says, sniffing the air. She’s still smelling cigarettes, stronger now than before. Weird. Maybe it’s some weird pregnancy thing where you smell the things you crave but can’t have? Or is someone really out there, lurking? “Hello?”

“I’m still here,” Jake answers.

“Sorry,” she mumbles. “I must be losing my mind. Keep thinking I smell cigarettes. I’ve been craving them really bad though, maybe that’s why.”

“Sounds legit. Anyway, are you gonna finish this story? If I’m gonna be late for work you might as well make it worth my time.”

“You’re always so bloody impatient. Anyway, yeah, so the ex comes over, banging on the door and carrying on about how much noise we were making. She thought he was wanking to porn or something, just about lost her mind when she realized he wasn’t alone in the room. He told her off, that we were married and he had moved on, and then she started shoving him around so I intervened and basically told her to go fuck herself. That went over about as well as you’d expect, and she tried to slag me off, told me never to have kids with him or I’d end up regretting it, that his own daughter doesn’t even talk to him, blah blah blah. I told her it was too late for that and it just about broke her when she realized I’m already pregnant. She flipped out, screamed at us both, and then went back to her room and slammed the door. It was completely mental. I’m surprised we didn’t wake up the whole guest house rowing. The Jimmy thing was fucked up, but Alec handled all that. Dealing with his ex-wife was soooooo much more terrifying, honestly.”

“How does this stuff always happen to you? You’re like a magnet for drama and disaster. Anyway, I know that was just the summary, I’m gonna need the blow-by-blow later, when I’m all oiled up and laying on the beach, drinking the whiskey I smuggled with me. Don’t worry, I’ll take extra shots for you.”

“Don’t be a chav,” she teases. In the garden, someone coughs and attempts to stifle it. Startled, she nearly drops the phone. “Jake, I gotta call you back.”

She doesn’t wait for his reply before she ends the call and slips the phone into her pocket. “Alright, I heard you cough. Stop messing about and come on out!”

A teenage girl with strawberry blonde hair steps out from behind a large butterfly bush, a cigarette dangling from between her fingers. “So you’re my dad’s new wife. You gonna rat me out to him for smoking?”

“Not if you put it out now,” she says, trying to mask her surprise. There’s no mistaking it, the girl in front of her is definitely Alec’s daughter, she can see it in the defiant set of her jaw. She must’ve been in the bushes the entire time, which means… “Fuck. You heard that entire conversation.”

“Sure did,” Daisy replies, flopping down onto a rickety looking deck chair. She takes one last drag on her cigarette before stubbing it out on the bottom of her shoe. “Is it true then? You and my dad are having a baby?”

Rose rests her open hand over her abdomen. “Yeah, it’s true. I’m so sorry you had to find out this way...your dad wanted to be the one to tell you. Blimey, he’s gonna be so pissed at me…he wanted to tell you himself, in person.”

“So is that why you married my dad? Because of the baby?” Daisy asks.

“I love your dad,” she answers, avoiding the question. She can’t bring herself to say otherwise out loud. Of course they got married because of the baby, but what purpose is there in telling that to his teenage daughter, who’s probably already crushed by the news that her father remarried in secret?

Daisy shakes her head. “That’s not what I asked you, but okay. It’s good that you love him. I hope he’s happy, he’s been a sad bastard since before him and my mum even split up. And I guess it’s pretty cool that I’m gonna be a big sister.”

“So you aren’t mad then?” Rose asks, both relieved and confused. “I thought you wanted your parents to get back together?”

“Why would I be mad?” Daisy replies, picking at her nail polish. “I’m glad he got remarried, maybe now he’ll chill the fuck out. I never wanted my parents to get back together, I just wanted them to stop fighting all the damn time. It was fucking exhausting. They’re better off apart.”

“You curse too much,” Rose tells her, but there’s no force behind the admonishment.

“That’s ironic, coming from the person who was dropping eff bombs all over the place a minute ago.”

“Point taken.”

“So does that mean you’re like...my step-mom now?” Daisy asks.

“I suppose so,” she answers uncomfortably. “But you can just call me Rose. I think I’d prefer that.”

Daisy stares back at her, and lights another cigarette. “Cool. You’re not gonna tell my dad you caught me smoking, are you Rose?”

This is obviously some kind of silent challenge, and as the adult she knows she should tell Daisy to put out the goddamn cigarette, but she can’t bring herself to be the bad guy, not yet. Her parenting skills are obviously going to require some honing. “You really shouldn’t smoke, it makes your hair and clothes smell like shit and it’s bad for your teeth and lungs. But no, I won’t tell him, so long as you tell me why you never answer his calls.”

The girl takes a drag of her cigarette and mulls the question over. “Well, I am still kinda mad at him. He lied to me about what happened, about Sandbrook. He took the blame for what my mum did, and he lied to me about it. It made me mad that he decided for himself that I wouldn’t be able to handle the truth. It made me mad that he wouldn’t stand up to her, or stand up for himself. I love my dad, but he let me down. He should’ve just been honest with me and let me make up my own mind about it. Adults always fucking think they know everything, knows what’s best for everyone else. They say honesty is the best policy, and then they turn around a lie to you. It’s so hypocritical. That’s why I was mad at him. I’m not anymore, not really. I haven’t been answering his calls lately because I got a job in a shop and I’ve been at work almost every time he’s called me.”

“You should really tell him that, because he thinks you hate him. It’s been killing him,” she says, folding her arms over her chest. “And you’re right...adults are arseholes and morons sometimes. We assume things without bothering to fact check and cause ourselves a lot of unnecessary grief in the process.”

“Both my parents treat me like I’m still just a kid. But I’m not, I’m almost old enough to drive. They still want to wrap me up in cotton wool and protect from the truth, from the world, and it’s just so fucking annoying. How am I ever going to learn anything if they won’t let me do it myself?”

“They just love you, they want to protect you. They know you’re gonna have to make mistakes to learn from them, they just don’t want you to go through unnecessary pain learning those lessons. Everyone’s parents do it, if they’re lucky. It just means they care. Trust me, the alternative is a lot worse,” she says, swallowing thickly. Her own mother is out there, in London, hurting because she’s too much of a baby to tell her that she ignored her advice and did the thing she’s always been told not to do. She’s the last fucking person in the world who ought to be giving this poor girl advice on parental relationships.

Daisy nods thoughtfully. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. It could be worse, I mean it’s not like they’re literally smothering me or anything. I don’t know. My parents are both crazy, just different kinds of crazy. My mum is the mean kind of crazy, and my dad just gets inside his own head too much. But you seem okay, Rose. If my dad has to be remarried, I’m glad it’s to someone like you.”

“Thanks. That really means a lot,” she says sincerely.

“Are you gonna tell my dad we talked?” the girl asks.

“I don’t know. I hate lying, but I know he really wanted to be the one to tell you about us. I don’t want to upset him, he’s already been through so much recently.”

Daisy puts out her cigarette and flicks the butt into what’s either a decorative vase or an ash receptacle. “I can pretend to be surprised when he tells me. No one else is awake right now, no one knows we’re out here talking. I don’t want to upset him either, if he wants to be the one to tell me, let him think that he did. As long as you promise not to tell him or my mum I knicked her cigarettes.”

“Deal,” Rose says, sticking out her hand so they can shake.

“Guess I’ll see you around then,” Daisy says, opening the door to the kitchen. “Later.”

“Later,” she replies, waving half-heartedly.

She takes out her mobile, sees that it’s already after seven, and hopes that Jake made it to work okay. She feels bad for hanging up on him, but it probably couldn’t have been avoided either way. Her conversation with Daisy feels surreal, like something that happened in a movie or someone else’s dream. But saying certain things out loud has given her a clarity, and she knows what she must do. She dials the number and waits while it rings, biting her lip so hard in nervous anticipation that she tastes copper on her tongue.

“Hello?”

“Mum? It’s Rose. We need to talk.”

Chapter Text

“So you quit your job with no notice, you move out of your flat and leave London like a thief in the night to run off with some bloody stranger without telling me, you dodge my calls for weeks, and now you want to talk to me at the bloody arse crack of dawn? You better be calling to tell me you won the lotto and you’re buying me a mansion by the sea to apologize for being such a rotten child.”

Jackie Tyler is thoroughly unamused. It’s about the reaction Rose was expecting, to be honest, but that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. She can practically feel the righteous anger radiating across the miles and out from the phone and it stings as though she’s been physically slapped. “Mum, please spare me the lecture. I know I’m a shite kid, and I’m sorry. But I’m calling you now, okay? Doesn’t that count for something?”

“Not when I’ve been worried sick about you for weeks! What the hell do you think you’re playing at? I raised you better than this, Rose Marion Tyler!”

“I know, I know, I’m sorry,” she says with a sigh, cringing inwardly. You know you’re in trouble when your mum calls you by your full name. “Things have just been mad lately. Alec’s mum passed away suddenly, I’m up in Scotland, and-”

“I don’t bloody care if you’re in Alpha Centauri! I’m not interested in your excuses for why you’ve been busy deliberately avoiding me. Jake knows what’s going on with you, I bet Shareen does too. Why not me? Why would you just run off like that and say nothing to me? Everyone knows what’s going on with you except your own bloody mother! Why is it that you can figure out how to pick up a phone to call your friends but not me?”

She pinches the bridge of her nose, takes a deep breath, and angles the phone speaker away from her ear in anticipation of the possible screaming match that might ensue. Best to just get it out there and get it over with so she can deal with the fallout. “Alec and I got married at the end of May. I quit my job at the pub and moved to Broadchurch to be with him. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner, I was nervous.”

“You married him?! Jesus Rose, what the hell were you thinking marrying someone you barely know? So what, that wanker Jimmy leaves you at the altar so you just go and marry the next bloke who shows any interest? What on earth would possess you to do something so stupid and impulsive?”

“Mum, stop it,” she says, tears of frustration beginning to prick the corners of her eyes. Even if the things Jackie is saying are partially true, it still hurts to hear them come from her own mother. “I love him. It’s not like that.”

“What is it like then, Rose? I thought you were smarter than that, to make such an important decision so rashly. I met him once. Once! How do I know he’s not a serial killer? How do I know he doesn’t have ulterior motives for being with you? How am I supposed to trust either one of you ever again when you went and did this all behind my back? You didn’t even give me the opportunity to be happy for you!”

She’s pretty sure she already knows the answers, but she goes ahead and asks anyway. “Well...are you happy for me?”

“Of course not, I’m bloody livid that you went and got married behind my back!”

“Why the hell do you think I didn’t say anything? I knew this was exactly how you’d react. I’m twenty-five years old, I’ve been out from under your roof for years, and you still treat me like I’m a bloody teenager. It’s my life, mum, these are my choices to make, it has nothing to do with you,” she says as calmly as she can manage. She hears the tremble in her own voice, though, the deluge of angry tears is surely about to follow. “If you’d been this concerned with what I was up to when I was dating that loser Jimmy Stone, maybe we all could’ve avoided some heartache.”

“Oh, so now I’m responsible for the bad decisions you make? How was anything I said going to prevent you from shacking up with Jimmy, you apparently do whatever you want regardless of whether or not I tell you that I think it’s a bad idea!”

“No, but that’s my point. Marrying Alec wasn’t a bad decision, I don’t get how you’re more upset about this than you were when I told you Jimmy and I were getting married,” she says through clenched teeth, her patience with the conversation waning. Why had she thought this was a good idea again? “Alec’s older, he’s more mature, more stabile, he’s got a good job, he doesn’t do drugs, he hardly drinks. He takes good care of me mum, this isn’t the big deal you’re trying to make out of it. If anything, I’m better off now than i ever was. Alec takes care of me, I’m not struggling and scrimping just to have my basic human needs met!”

“I was upset when you told me Jimmy and you were getting married, and I told you I thought it was a bad idea. At least when you were with Jimmy though you actually bloody talked to me. I knew what was going on in your life, I knew what you were doing, and while I didn’t agree with or approve of most of it at least I wasn’t left in the dark. If you think marrying Alec was a good decision, why would you hide it from me? I’m upset because I feel like you’re keeping secrets from me and I’m worried. Because everything with Jimmy was out on the table, and that was a goddamn trainwreck. The fact that I know almost nothing about Alec and you’ve made sure to keep it that way makes me anxious, Rose. What aren’t you telling me about him?”

And there it is. The open door, her opportunity to just come clean and tell her mum what’s really going on. If she hesitates or chickens out now, that may be even more damning than just telling Jackie the truth. She’s already made it this far, what’s the point in holding out and lying about the baby now? It would only be prolonging the inevitable, as she can’t realistically hide the fact that she’s pregnant from her mum forever.

“It’s not about him,” she answers, taking in a deep breath and steeling herself for whatever comes next. “Alec is great, he treats me well. I really do love him and I think once you get to know him, you will too. This is about you and me and our relationship, and in a way, it’s about what happened with you and my dad. I didn’t say anything sooner because I knew you were gonna be disappointed and probably angry with me, but...I’m pregnant. You’re gonna be a grandma. Please be happy about it mum, because I am, and I want you to be too.”

There. She’s finally said it out loud, the truth, and there’s no taking it back. But the feeling of tightness in her chest has not abated, and the longer Jackie is silent, the worse that feeling gets. She has played out the way this conversation would go in her head probably a hundred times or more since she found out she was pregnant, and every time there had been a different outcome. Jackie’s always been a bit mercurial and hard to predict, but she’s usually loud about whatever is going through her head, doubly so if those thoughts are negative in nature. This heavy silence is very much out of character for Jackie and completely unnerving for Rose. “Mum? Please say something,” she begs.

When Jackie finally replies, she sounds entirely weary and defeated. “I’m a terrible mother.”

The response shocks her and the annoyance she had been feeling melts away and is replaced by an urge to deny what her mother has just said. “What? Don’t be ridiculous, of course you aren’t a terrible mother. Why would you even say something terrible like that?”

“Because it’s the truth. I’m a terrible mother. When your father died...I was so afraid. At having to raise you alone. I worried that I would screw you up somehow, that I wouldn’t be able to give you everything you needed, that I’d somehow end up failing you or that me alone wouldn’t be enough. And I guess I did fail you, because the one thing I never wanted was for you to follow in my footsteps, and here we are. I tried to beat it into your head to do better so that you wouldn’t end up like me, and you not only made my same mistakes over but you apparently were so terrified of my reaction that you felt like you had to hide it from me instead of just telling me what was really going on with you. I’m a terrible mother, I must be, how the hell else could something like this have happened?”

“It was an accident, mum. My birth control failed, it was just one of those things. But just because it was an accident doesn’t mean it was a mistake. Calling something a mistake implies a certain amount of regret and I don’t regret this, not at all. I love Alec, I really do. He gave me a chance to reboot my life and start over, and I am so, so grateful for that. He really wants this baby, and so do I. You didn’t fail me. If anything, knowing that you went through this before me gives me the courage to press on, even though it seems scary. I won’t lie and say I’m not worried or afraid, of course I am. But if you could do it alone, I can certainly do it with help. Alec’s a great husband, I know he’ll be a great dad, and I know you’ll be a great grandma who will spoil this damn baby rotten. If I can be even half the mother you are, this kid’s gonna be okay. I love you, mum,” she says, her breath catching in her throat. Tears are rolling down her cheeks, but they’re tears of relief and catharsis. She feels foolish now for demonizing her mother in her head and putting this conversation off as long as she did.

“Now don’t you start crying, cause if you start crying then I’m gonna cry, too.”

Rose laughs. “I’m not crying, it’s just raining on my face. Seems to be happening a lot since I got pregnant.”

“I’m sorry, Rose. I’m sorry for whatever I did that made you feel like you couldn’t talk to me sooner. I want to be there for you, if you’ll give me the chance. Please don’t ever feel like you can’t talk to me or that you have to lie to me about what’s really going on in your life. You’re right-it’s your life and you have the right to make your own choices without me projecting my feelings about your father onto you and Alec. You aren’t me, and he isn’t Pete, thank God for that. If you two are serious about giving this a go, I’m sure you’ll manage. You have my support either way, I just want you to be happy. That’s all I’ve ever wanted for you.”

She rubs furiously at her eyes with her balled up fist and sniffles. “Yeah, course, I know that. ‘M sorry too, for lying and avoiding you instead of just being upfront and honest. I was so afraid of disappointing you, I got it into my head that I’d tell you and you’d end up disowning me or something. Seems silly now, I guess. Anyway, I really do hate to cut this short, but I gotta go. They’re burying Alec’s mum today and I’ve gotta go get ready for the funeral and cram myself into a stupid maternity dress that makes me look 9000 weeks pregnant. I just...yeah. Watching him lose his mum, talking to his daughter...it just made me realize that I couldn’t take you for granted and I had to tell you what was going on. I’m sorry I waited so long. Call you later, okay?”

“Later as in later today or later this week, not later next month or later when you’re in labor, okay?”

Rose laughs. “Yeah, alright, I think i can manage that.”

“Promise?”

“Promise,” she assures her mum.

“I’m glad we finally got a chance to talk. I love you sweetheart.”

“I love you too, mum,” she replies, ending the phone call.

She takes a deep breath and tries to will her lungs to open and her heart to unclench. Even after talking with both Daisy and her mother, she can still feel her brain marinating in stress hormones and her body feels like it’s ready to fly apart at the seams. Maybe she ought to take up yoga or meditation or something, since her days of having a cigarette and a beer or a spliff to de-stress are long over. Finally meeting Daisy and then talking with her mum are both huge weights off her chest, but the uncertainty and anxiety of having to meet the rest of Alec’s family and possibly having to deal with Tess again is weighing heavily on her heart and mind. The stress is almost unbearable. She glances back at the guest house and shakes her head.

“I can’t go back in there right now,” she says out loud, to no one in particular. Instead, she walks down the steps, off the veranda and into the garden, where the fragrant, heady aroma of honeysuckle intensifies. At the end of the garden path there’s a sparse stand of birch trees, and beyond that the moor, alive with a riot of picturesque purple-hued heather that looks like something out of a travel guide. The fog has all but evaporated in the early morning heat, except for a few stray patches creeping through the flowers, lending an ethereal beauty to the quiet landscape. This is the sort of lush scenery tourists pay for, but it’s hard to appreciate it with her heart lodged firmly in the back of her throat.

She closes her eyes, inhales. Takes a step forward, exhales. She does this until she reaches the trees at the end of the garden path, and tries to fool herself into believing that she is somehow more calm than she was moments ago. A small part of her feels almost guilty for still being so anxious. What right does she have to feel this way when they’ll be burying her husband’s mother in a few hours? She needs to look within and find her Dunkirk spirit for the both of them. Still, it feels so intimidating, to be taking part in something as intimate and important as a funeral when she doesn’t know the deceased or her family. She knows it means a lot to Alec to have her here with him, but she still feels like an interloper, especially after overhearing his conversation with his father last night. Maybe she shouldn’t have come…

“It’s beautiful out here, isn’t it? Like a little slice of heaven. The early mornings and evenings are my favorite time to walk out here, the solitude makes me feel closer to God.”

She nearly jumps out of her skin when the woman’s voice breaks the silence-she’d been so lost in her own thoughts that she hadn’t even heard her coming. “You scared the shit out of me!” she exclaims, blushing. “Sorry, pardon my language. I thought I was out here alone.”

The other woman smiles. “Quite alright, dear. I didn’t mean to sneak up on you. I’m much lighter on my feet than I used to be. I don’t mean to intrude on your meditation, I just wanted to make sure you were alright. You seem troubled.”

She laughs dismissively. “Troubled is probably an understatement. We’re burying my husband’s mother today, I’ve never met any of his family and...it’s complicated. I’ve just got a lot on my mind these days.”

“Anything in particular?” the woman asks.

“Sorry, I don’t mean to be rude...but do I know you?” Rose questions, looking the other woman up and down. Something about her seems vaguely familiar, but she can’t put her finger on it. “It’s just...it’s a bit weird to be talking about my problems to a complete stranger. Are you here for the funeral?”

The woman tilts her head, seeming to consider the question. “I suppose I am.”

“You suppose? That’s a bit weird,” she replies nervously, suddenly anxious to be out here alone. Who the hell is this woman and why is she so interested in her?

“You don’t have to be afraid of me, dear,” the woman answers, almost as if she had read her mind. “I just thought maybe if we talked, it might put your mind at ease. I’ve been where you are before. I know how scary it is, to be young and newly married and expecting your first baby. Harder still to integrate into a new family, especially one as difficult as the Hardys. But then again, if they were simple folk, I guess they’d be called the Easys,” she says, her eyes dancing with amusement at her own corny turn of phrase. “Alec is a good man, though. He’ll take care of you, and your baby. Don’t worry so much about the rest of the family, as long as you have each other you’ll do just fine. Some men burn like pyres, hot and fast, uncontrollable. Alec has a fire in his heart, but it’s more of a smolder. If you let him into your heart though, that fire will keep both of you warm.”

Rose narrows her eyes. How does this stranger know so much about her and Alec? “I’m sorry, who are you again?”

“I was a wife and a mother, just like you. Suppose I still am, although that seems like so long ago now,” she answers, staring off into the distance. “I’m in a transitional phase now, not really sure how long that will last.”

Transitional phase? What the hell does that mean? This woman is mad. “Okay…?” she replies, at a loss for anything else to say. This conversation, like the rest of the morning, feels entirely surreal. “How do you know Alec? Are you family?”

“Aye,” she replies. “But don’t worry about me. I’m not like Tristan, I’m not here to judge you. The rest of them aren’t like that either, just so you know. They aren’t perfect, but then again, none of us are. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

“You should tell that to Alec’s dad,” she says. “For a Christian man and a minister, he seems to be shockingly unfamiliar with the tenets of his own religion. Pretty sure that’s why Alec is so stand offish about that stuff now, but then again I guess i would be too if I’d been thoroughly abused in the name of God.”

It occurs to her after she says it that maybe she’s being too forward, given she still doesn’t know exactly who this lady is, only that she’s supposedly family. Still, for some reason, she feels like she can tell her anything. It’s weird, really weird, but maybe not any more strange than any of the other events of the past few days.

“I can tell you’re a spiritual woman, please don’t judge the light of God by the darkness of man. Tristan is troubled, but one day even he will have to answer for his sins, as we all will,” the other woman says.

“You’re a bit strange, you know that?” Rose says, bemused.

If the other woman is offended by this observation, she doesn’t say so. She doesn’t acknowledge the comment at all, just picks a sprig of heather from one of the bushes and hands it to her. These flowers though, unlike the others growing around them, are white. “Do you know why the Scots believe white heather brings good luck?” she asks as she presses the blooms into Rose’s palm.

“I’m sure I’ve heard the story at least once, but I’ll be damned if I can remember,” she says, looking down at the tiny bell-shaped flowers.

“Heather grows all over Scotland, but white heather is the rarest one to find. Some say it grows only over the final resting place of faeries. The other old tale is one of romance, of a beautiful daughter of a poet betrothed to a fierce warrior who died in battle. When her lover’s squire brought the news of his death, he gave the girl a sprig of heather as a last token of affection from her beloved. When her tears fell on the flowers, the purity of her love turned them white, and she declared that though white heather was a symbol of her grief, she wished it would bring good fortune to any who found it. You’ve endured some hardships, my dear, i think you’re due for a bit of good fortune,” the woman says kindly.

Without thinking about it, she throws her arms around the woman and hugs her. “Thank you,” she whispers, and she means it. The kindness of this stranger has brought her a measure of the comfort she has desperately been seeking, in spite of the initial awkwardness of the encounter. Within her she feels a gentle fluttering sensation, a bit like butterflies, and it takes her a moment to realize what it is.

“Oh!” she gasps as she pulls away, pressing the hand grasping the flowers against the swell of her stomach. At first she thinks she imagined it, but then the sensation comes again, even stronger than before. “Oh my God, she’s moving! I’ve never felt her move before. Oh my god, that’s crazy. I’ve got to go get Alec, I want him to feel this.”

The woman smiles again, soft and beatific. “Go, let him feel. He’ll be so excited. You two are going to be great parents, I can already tell how much you both love that baby.”

“I’m gonna go wake him up if he isn’t already,” Rose says, giddy. “Thank you again...what did you say your name was?”

“I didn’t say. But it’s Charlotte. I’m so very happy I got a chance to meet you, Rose. You’ll be a brilliant mum, and a brilliant wife. Please take care,” the woman says.

“I will. Thanks so much Charlotte, I’ll see you around,” she says, practically sprinting back to the guest house in her eagerness to share this moment with Alec. She’s halfway across the garden when she realizes that she never told the other woman her name and why she seemed so familiar. She turns back to look and is unsurprised to see that Charlotte is already gone, almost as if she’d never been there in the first place.

Chapter Text

“You’re a piece of shite,” he says out loud to himself. “You don’t deserve her, you don’t deserve a second chance. Everyone who’s ever called you a bastard was completely right.”

He’s been lying here on the bed in their room for the last twenty minutes since he woke up, staring at the ceiling and swearing at himself. A few hours of restless half-sleep have done nothing for his outlook; if anything, things somehow seem worse than they did the day before. They’re burying his mum today, there will likely be fallout from his epic row with Tess to deal with, he still has to talk to Daisy and the rest of his family about Rose and the baby, and then there’s the ticking time bomb, the conversation he had with his boss that he still hasn’t even mentioned to Rose. Of course there had been ample opportunity to do so, and he had originally planned to talk to her about it on the ride up to Scotland, but then the thing with Jimmy Stone had happened and he had taken the excuse to just not bring it up at all like the sodding jellyfish he really is. Why is it that he can be brave confronting a suspect, but not his own fears or feelings? Rose is rational and compassionate, there’s no reason they couldn’t have a civil conversation about it, but he’s still holding back because he’s too much of a coward to admit that he doesn’t want to do the thing that will make her happy for his own selfish reasons.

It all seems like too much to deal with at once and there’s a tight band of anxiety squeezing his lungs like a clenched fist. There’s only so much he can do about most of these things, but the nervous voice in the back of his head keeps telling him he may have already irreparably fucked up things with Rose by not being honest with her, especially after she had made a point of telling him how her relationship with Jimmy had made it so difficult for her to trust others. Which is why he’s still lying here feeling like an arsehole instead of getting up to go and find her. Hopefully she just went off in search of tea or breakfast, but that same nagging voice telling him he’s already fucked things up is also saying that she probably bailed after getting a taste of what a complete shit show his family is. He wouldn’t blame her, honestly. After fighting with both his father and Tess, he’d like to bail too. If it weren’t for Daisy and Leenie he probably would’ve already, but as much as he’d like to avoid the rest of his family indefinitely, he can’t in good conscience leave his daughter or his sister to grieve his mother’s death on their own. Besides, if he sticks this out he could ostensibly justify avoiding contact with the rest of his family until his father finally has the courtesy to die and leave his broken family in peace.

Most assuredly, he’s going to hell if he isn’t there already, and he’s not quite convinced that he isn’t. Stuck in a house with your abusive father and ex-wife and a dozen fussbudget relatives, that’s close enough to hell, innit? It’s bad enough having Tess and Rose in the same house with him, the whole missus and the ex scenario is pretty much any man’s worst nightmare even without the additional element of excessive family drama. With a sigh he sits up and swings his legs over the side of the bed, finally mustering the energy to stop lying there in a pathetic heap. As much as he’d love to stay there and stew in unrelenting self-pity all day, he can’t put off getting ready for his mum’s funeral and he really ought to find his wife and make sure she hasn’t been intercepted by a nosey relative. Just as he’s reaching for his glasses on the bedside table, the door bangs open and a breathless Rose flies into the room, her eyes wild and bright. Before he has a chance to ask her what’s wrong, she lifts up her shirt, grabs his hand, and places it over the swell of her bare stomach.

“Do you feel it?” she says to him excitedly.

“Feel wha-,” he starts to ask, the question interrupted by the subtle sensation of movement under his open palm. “Oh. Oh.”

“She’s kicking. Our baby is kicking,” Rose says, wiping a stray tear off her cheek. “I was all the way out in the garden when it happened, I didn’t know what it was at first. Took me a minute. I was afraid she’d stop before I could get back up here. Don’t think I’ve moved that fast since I did gymnastics.”

“Nope, she’s still moving,” he says in awe, pressing his cheek against her belly and wrapping his arms around her waist. Just for a moment, everything else melts away and he’s reminded of what exactly it was that brought him and Rose back together in the first place: this precious, innocent, beautiful life they somehow managed to create entirely by accident. Were it not for that happy accident, he would be here dealing with this mess entirely on his own. He swallows thickly, unconsciously embracing her even tighter. “Oh Rose...that’s just brilliant. Thank you.”

“Innit?” she replies, brushing her fingers soothingly through his hair. “I know today is gonna be hard for you...I wanted you to have something happy to hold on to.”

“Well, I’ve got you to hold on to,” he says, pressing a gentle kiss to the swell of her stomach. Cheekily, he lets his hands drop to her bum for a quick squeeze. “And your bum. I’m always happy holding onto that. And other things.”

“Down, boy. I think your family is waking up, we don’t want to be late for breakfast,” she chuckles.

He grimaces. “You say that now, wait til you’ve had Annie’s cooking. A roll in the hay is preferable to her take on toad in a hole, trust me. And before you ask, yes, for some reason she likes it for breakfast. She’s just weird like that.”

She stops petting his hair and puts her hands on her hips. “Are you trying to shag me as an excuse to avoid telling the rest of your family about us? Because you’re only prolonging the inevitable at this point. Between Tess and your dad, they’re all bound to find out whether you say anything or not., and if we don’t show up for breakfast they’ll just gossip about us and we won’t be there to say anything in our own defense.”

“I’m not avoiding my family,” he exclaims with mock offense. “Well...maybe I am a little. I just don’t want to stir things up before the funeral, there will be plenty of time for family drama at the reception. Besides...happy things to hold on to, right?”

“You don’t think it’ll be more likely to cause drama if you show up to the funeral with a strange pregnant woman that you haven’t introduced to anyone in your family?” she asks skeptically.

 

“Well, that’s not entirely true. You’ve been introduced to my dad and Tess,” he points out.

Rose rolls her eyes and tugs her shirt over her head. “Fine. But if we miss breakfast, we’re stopping on the way to the church and you’re buying me a McGriddle and no less than three hash browns because I’m already starving and if we shag it’ll be worse. I can’t attend a funeral while I’m hangry. Also, I might want a chocolate milkshake, if they even make them in the morning. I can’t remember.”

“I would make a joke about how much I like your milkshake right now, but I think I’m too old and unhip to get away with it,” he admits.

“It’s true, my milkshake does bring all the boys to the yard. Or at least to rest area car parks,” she jokes, cupping her breasts. “If these puppies get any bigger, I’m going to need to buy stock in Victoria’s Secret. I could probably smother someone with them in a pinch. I’m not even five months yet, by the time I give birth they’ll probably be the size of literal watermelons.”

“There’s nothing wrong with your breasts, I assure you,” he says emphatically. “The better to nourish our child with, eventually. For now...they’ve got other uses.”

“Oh yeah? How ‘bout you show me?” she says, tossing her hair and dislodging something that was tucked behind her ear. The object whispers across her bare skin and drops to the carpet.

He bends over to see what fell and notes bemusedly that it’s a sprig of white heather. “Where’d this come from?” he asks, picking it up and twirling it between his fingers.

Something like unease flickers in Rose’s eyes as she takes the heather from him and sets it on the dresser. “Oh that? Found it while I was out in the garden. Figured I’d bring it back home as a souvenir.”

“How odd. White heather is pretty rare, I can’t remember the last time I saw it around here. Some superstitious folk think it’s good luck to find white heather in the wild,” he says wistfully. “My mum...she loved heather. White heather especially though, she loved all the folklore and stories surrounding it. When I was a kid she used to tell me it grew over the graves of faeries.”

“Oh.” Rose is now biting her lip and fidgeting like a bored child. If she were a suspect, he’d definitely think she had something to hide.

He frowns. “You’re being weird. Did something happen while you were out in the garden? As soon as I mentioned the heather you started acting shifty.”

She laughs, but it’s forced. “Not any shiftier than usual. Nothing happened. I couldn’t sleep, so I went out to the garden to call Jake in private. I ended up calling my mum, too. She knows about us now.”

He raises his eyebrow in surprise. She’s been avoiding telling her mum the truth about them from the get go. “Oh? How’d Jackie take it? I know you’ve been nervous about telling her.”

Rose nods and sighs. “Good, actually, really good. I mean...it was bad at first, she was really angry, but I don’t blame her. Once we talked it out though, it was fine, she understood. Which of course makes me feel like a complete git for waiting so long to tell her, but at least it’s out in the open now and I don’t have to hide it or avoid her anymore. It’s a huge relief, to be honest. It never feels good to hide something that big and important from someone you love. I’m glad she knows now, I can’t wait to send her a copy of the sonogram. She’ll be over the moon, I’m sure.”

“Good for you,” he says and he means it, even though he can feel his own heart sinking. He stands up and wraps his arms tightly around her, and tries to think about how sublime it is to hold her and how fantastic her naked breasts feel pressed against his chest rather than how shitty it feels to know that he lacks even half a measure of the courage she has. “I’m proud of you for finally doing it, I know you put it off a long time because you were afraid of how she’d take the news, but she’s your mum and she’ll always love you no matter what. I’m glad that she can share this with you. I love you to pieces, but I’m never going to be able to truly commiserate over stuff like pregnancy cravings and morning sickness. I’m really glad she’s in your corner, sincerely. I know you don’t have many people you can talk to about the baby, your mum should definitely be one of them.”

“Thanks,” she replies, relaxing into the embrace and resting her head against his chest. “It was really scary to finally do it, but it means a lot to hear you say you’re proud of me. You know what this means though, right?”

“What?” he asks with eyes closed, inhaling the faint scent of flowers from her hair.

“Now that she knows about us, we can’t keep avoiding her. She’s gonna want to come visit us or we’ll have to go visit her. She wants to get to know you, I know that’s important to her,” Rose says, her nails scraping lightly against the bare skin of his back. “And Jake, too. He was just saying how he wanted a beach holiday.”

He hums appreciatively as her fingers travel down his bare skin and skim the waistband of his pants. “Okay. So invite them down. We don’t have a crib set up yet, your mum can sleep in the spare bedroom, Jake can have the couch if he doesn’t mind. I could even make dinner for everyone, maybe those vegetarian lentil tacos you liked so much. Or a new recipe, if you know what their favorite meals are. I wouldn’t mind cooking so you don’t have to, I know it’s getting harder for you to stand for long periods of time. And you guys could do the beach, maybe with Miller and the kids. It could be fun, i guess.”

“Really? You’d do that?” she asks, pulling back to look at him. “I know you like your solitude, you’d be okay with inviting both of them down at the same time? I hope our little cottage is big enough for all of your eg-, er…personalities”

“I’d do anything to make you happy, Rose,” he says without thinking, and then cringes inwardly at his own choice of words. He’d do anything to make her happy except tell the goddamn truth or entertain the idea of moving to London, apparently. But maybe it’s okay. Things have been crazy lately, she’ll hopefully forgive him for not saying anything about the job offer until after they get home from Scotland, provided he can muster up the balls to talk to her about it between now and then. That’s all he can hope for at this point, because he’s certainly not in the headspace to have a serious discussion about it right now. Of course there’s always the option of just turning the offer down and not saying anything about it at all… What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her, right? But could he really bring himself to do that? Also, he’s definitely going to hell for even entertaining the idea of doing something so underhanded to the woman he claims to love. Selfish, selfish, selfish. Maybe he hasn’t learned anything after all.

“Earth to Alec, you there?” Rose asks, cupping him through his pants and jolting him back into himself.

He clears his throat. “RIght, yes, sorry, just got lost in my thoughts. But uh..that’s a very effective strategy you’ve got there for um...redirecting my attention.”

She smiles, stroking and squeezing lightly as she does. “What you thinking about?”

His answer is only a half-lie. “Wondering if everyone else on this floor has gone down to breakfast already, because I plan on making you scream and as satisfying as the look on my ex’s face was when she realized we were shagging, I’d hate for us to get interrupted again like we did last night.”

“Gonna make me scream, huh? Sounds pretty promising for me, but what about you? I thought I was supposed to be the one giving you happy thoughts,” Rose says, her hand dipping underneath his waistband to loosely grip his half-hard cock.

“Well,” he replies, lazily circling her bare nipples with his thumbs. “First order of business I think is a little foreplay. Maybe a bit of snogging and some heavy petting before I explore every inch of your naked body with my mouth. I know I’ve done it before, but I’m worried I may have missed a few places and frankly, that’s unacceptable. I’m going to need to conduct a full and thorough investigation.”

“Then what?” she asks, sliding his pants over his hips and letting them drop to the floor. “You just going to stop at foreplay? It’ll take a bit more than some snogging and squeezing to make me scream.”

He chuckles, and pulls the drawstring on her pajama bottoms until they’re just loose enough that they fall down on their own. Now she’s wearing only her knickers, and the sight of her makes his heartbeat pick up. “Stop after the appetizer course? Who does that? No, I’ll explore your body with my mouth and pick a secret spot to lay my claim, like any good explorer does. Maybe your shoulder, possibly your breast, or better yet, your thigh, so close to where you really want me, and I’ll nibble and kiss until your petal soft skin is just about bruised and you’re squirming with anticipation and aching to be touched.”

Rose’s eyes are large and dark, her lips moist and just slightly parted. The tip of her tongue darts out and glides from one corner of her mouth to the other. “And then what will you do?”

He chuckles and hooks his fingers through the waistband of her knickers and pulls them gently over her hips. “Then my dear, I’ll bury my face between your thighs and tease you til you’re trembling. I’ll take you to edge and bring you back from it again and again, and when I’ve decided you’ve had enough, I’ll make you come so hard they’ll hear you screaming all the way back in Broadchurch. Then, and only then, I’ll fuck you, because nothing gets me harder than feeling how wet you are while you grind against my face.”

She grabs his hand and guides it between her legs, where he can feel she is already aroused. “Apparently, you don’t even have to touch me to make me wet. These damn pregnancy hormones, I could look at a bloody ice lolly or a banana and get horny. Also, if the whole cop thing doesn’t work out I’m pretty sure you could make a killing as a phone sex operator. But um...I think I like it when you talk dirty to me. You should definitely do that more often. Like all the time.”

“Talk is cheap,” he says, picking her up and throwing her down on top of the rumpled sheets. “I’d much rather show you what I else I can do with my mouth.”

Chapter Text

Rose’s perfectly manicured taupe fingernails tap anxiously against the top of the steering wheel, looking bland and boring against the fuzzy pink and purple leopard-print cover Jake had given her as a gift two Christmases ago. She’d honestly wanted to wear one of her favorite shades of bold red polish (they always make her feel powerful and confident), but all she had heard in her head as she was getting ready this morning was her Nan’s voice from that one Christmas dinner, telling her that only sluts or waitresses wore that shade of red. Watching the somberly dressed crowd shuffle into the church, she was glad she’d allowed the ghost of her dead grandmother to shame her into wearing something a bit more conservative. Looking at herself in the mirror, she already feels self-consciously conspicuous in the maternity dress that she swears is a size smaller than when she’d tried it on just the other day. Even with a camisole on underneath the dress, her cleavage is less funeral and more television awards ceremony. She can’t help but cringe seeing the printed warning at the bottom of the mirror: objects in mirror are closer than they appear. Which means that up close and personal, her boobs and burgeoning baby bump are probably going to be even more noticeable. Fuck. Shit. Bollocks. She ought to go back to that bloody store and demand a refund: everything about her body that she’s been hoping to conceal in this dress is only highlighted by it. It must have been the stupid lighting in that mall that had given her the erroneous impression that she didn’t look too pregnant in the lightweight and clingy black fabric. Frowning, she brushes the crumbs of their thoroughly underwhelming McDonald’s breakfast from the damp valley between her breasts. She’s already a bit sweaty, which probably isn’t a good sign. She hopes the quaint Scottish church has air conditioning, but she’ll be surprised if it does. In the passenger seat beside her, Alec is staring out the window, an inscrutable expression on his face.

“You alright?” she asks softly.

“As alright as I can be I guess, under the circumstances. I didn’t think this through,” he sighs. “My dad was right, I should’ve tried to introduce you to Daisy at least before the funeral. I could give two fucks what anyone else thinks, but I can’t even imagine what will go through her head when she sees us together. The kid isn’t stupid, she’ll probably draw her own conclusions.”

“I wouldn’t worry too much about it,” she tells him.

He scoffs. “Easy for you to say. You don’t even know her, it won’t matter if she decides to hate you. But it’s going to matter quite a bit to me if she decides she hates us both for not saying anything sooner.”

She pats his knee encouragingly. “I highly doubt that’s going to happen.”

“I don’t see how you could possibly know that,” he says, giving her a look that is somehow simultaneously sharp and dismissive.

She has to bite her tongue to avoid telling him about her encounter with Daisy out in the garden that morning. “Just trying to be optimistic, Alec.”

He mutters something incomprehensible under his breath, but it almost sounds like, “Well I wish you’d stop it.”

It’s going to be a very long day if he keeps running hot and cold like this. The man sitting next to her in the passenger seat is an entirely different person than the one who’d tossed her down on the bed an hour ago, like a rich and exotic lover in one of those torrid Harlequin bodice rippers her mum used to love reading. She supposes she can’t get too angry though; under the circumstances, his sudden change in mood makes complete sense but his palpable anxiety is only making her own nervousness worse. She shouldn’t be so anxious about meeting the rest of his family and yet…

Alec sighs heavily and opens the car door. “Guess we might as well get this over with.”

She swallows hard, and gives herself one last look in the mirror before opening her door and stepping out of the car. The breeze that lifts the hair off the back of her neck is warm, almost too warm for sodden old Scotland. It feels completely surreal. She walks around the front of the car and meets him on the other side, where he is leaning with his arms crossed over his chest against the passenger side door.

“Is it bad that I just want to get back in the car and drive away and never talk to any of them ever again?” he asks. “I’m afraid some of them are going to open their mouths and talk and you’ll end up hating me by association.”

She chuckles lightly. “You’re probably asking the wrong person about family relationships. I’m four and a half months pregnant and only just told my own mother this morning, after spending weeks avoiding her phone calls. But besides all that, I don’t think anyone could say anything that would make me hate you. I survived your dad and your ex, could anyone really have anything worse to say about all this than either of them did last night?”

He harrumphs, but uncrosses his arms and lets them dangle at his sides. “I suppose not.”

“C’mon,” she says, grabbing his hand and tangling her fingers through his. “This isn’t gonna be easy, but you don’t have to do it alone. I’ve got your back, you’ve got mine. Yeah?”

He purses his lips, but the corners of his mouth twitch and curve into the most subtle smile. “I’d rather get you on your back right now.”

She rolls her eyes and elbows him good naturedly. “You know, I swear you get more and more perverted the longer I know you.”

He shrugs. “In my defense, I’ve never had a wife who was smart, kind, and smokin’ hot before. Also, inappropriate humor is this new coping mechanism I’m trying out.”

“Oh yeah? How’s that working out for you?” she asks, her tongue poking between her teeth.

He shakes his head noncommittally. “Too soon to tell. We’ll see how many rows I’ve managed to get into before this whole mess is over with.”

“I wish you had half as much faith in yourself as I have in you,” she says, trying to be light-hearted. It comes out sounding much more serious than intended though and she can tell it lands that way based on the expression on his face.

“I wish I knew how,” he replies softly, his grip on her hand tightening as they walk into the church together.

They pause just inside the threshold as they both survey their surroundings. The church, which had appeared tiny from out in the car park, is deceptively bigger on the inside. Alec’s mum must have been well-loved in the community though, as the pews are almost entirely full. There are a few open spots reserved up in the front rows, up with the rest of his family. She does a full-body cringe though when she realizes that the only space big enough to fit her pregnant arse and his skinny one is directly adjacent to his daughter and ex-wife. He must’ve reached this conclusion at the same time as her, because the next thing that comes out of his mouth is a swear.

“Bollocks,” he hisses under his breath.

“Well...you wanted to sit with your daughter for the service, right?” she asks, hoping now she sounds much more optimistic than she actually feels. How long are typical Church of Scotland funeral rites anyway? She prays internally that it’s not too long, because Tess turns around to look at them then and the steely-eyed glower she gives Rose would be enough to make any flower wither and die. There’s certainly no love lost there. How is this going to work, exactly?

Alec must sense her discomfort, because he squeezes her hand and starts walking down the aisle. “C’mon, don’t let the wench rattle you. She’s just looking for a reaction from either one of us, don’t give her the satisfaction. I’ll sit next to Daisy, that way I’m in between you and Tess if she tries to stir up any shit.”

“Cool,” she says, although it most certainly is not, metaphorically or literally. Inside the church it’s just a few degrees shy of sweltering, and the cheap box fans they have plugged in and running off of extension cords don’t seem to be doing dick about the temperature, frankly. The awkwardness of the whole scenario and the fact that she feels self-conscious as fuck in this too clingy maternity dress probably isn’t helping things, either. Now she’s the one who wants to turn tail and run the other direction. Fuck. Why had she volunteered to come to this? Morning sickness would’ve been an easy enough excuse to skip all these shenanigans, but she was too much of a bleeding heart to live with doing that to her husband. In her head, she thinks that she hasn’t adequately prepared for how much this is probably (definitely) going to fucking suck.

As they slide into the pew, Tess leans forward and shoots both of them a withering look. In a hushed tone, she admonishes, “I can’t believe you brought your little mid-life crisis tart to your mother’s funeral!”

The whispered scolding isn’t quite quiet enough to go unnoticed, and two of the people in the pew behind them shoot dirty looks their general direction. To his credit, Alec ignores them and his ex in favor of greeting his daughter. “Hey sweetheart, how’re you holding up?”

Rose has to give props to Daisy for her poker face, because she manages a look of genuine surprise. “Who’s this?” she asks, gesturing at Rose.

Alec clears his throat uncomfortably as he folds himself into the pew, which is just slightly too small to truly accommodate his willowy frame-his knees are bent practically up to his chest. “She’s somebody very important to me. But now isn’t a good time to discuss it. Can we talk about this later? After we’ve laid your Gran to rest?”

“Do I really have a choice?” the teenager asks sarcastically, twirling the ends of her hair around her fingers.

Alec shrugs apologetically. “Not really, no. The service is about to start.”

Daisy shrugs back, but doesn’t say anything. Though her gaze remains fixed on the frumpy old woman in black playing the organ to the front and side of the church, Rose can almost feel Tess’s side eye like a fresh sunburn on the side of her face, more annoying and uncomfortable than painful currently, but also likely to feel a lot more intense with continued exposure. This is more awkward than the time she’d gotten her first period sitting on her 8th year crush’s baby blue loveseat. She’d skipped school for four days after, until someone finally called her mum and alerted her that she’d been missing classes. Jackie had been all wound up about it until Rose had told her why. She’d still been pretty wound up after hearing the whole embarrassing story, but a lot more sympathetic, too. Somehow though, she doubts telling her tragic backstory here is likely to garner much empathy. She will still be the interloper, the unwelcome stranger intruding on something so private and intimate as a beloved family member’s funeral. Whatever anger or hurt feelings there are though, she almost hopes they direct them at her, rather than Alec. She’s honestly not sure he can handle it right now, and though the doctor had said he was healing nicely at his last check up, she is still loathe to risk putting undue and unnecessary stress on his mechanically-assisted heart. He’s already suffered enough as it is.

The organist begins to play a hymn Rose doesn’t recognize, and four men in charcoal grey suits, lead by Alec’s father, wheel his mother’s casket to the front of the church. Alec roughly grabs her knee and squeezes, and she places her hand comfortingly over top of his. Out of the corner of her eye, she catches his gaze. “Remember, I’ve got your back,” she whispers, hoping that he’ll be able to return the favor, if necessary.

Tristan Hardy shuffles slowly to the pulpit, adjusts the microphone, and coughs harshly before clearing his throat. “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.”

“Amen,” Rose echoes back with the rest of the congregation, feeling slightly hollow. These are not her rituals, and this woman is a stranger to her. She’s like a fish out of water for more reasons than one. Staring at the printed portrait of the deceased that’s leaning on an easel up by the pulpit, the knots in her stomach tighten up. There’s no denying it, the beatific face printed on the foamboard belongs to the woman she’d met out in the garden this morning. So either she’s officially lost her mind or…

“You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” Alec murmurs into her ear, and she almost jumps.

“I’m fine,” she insists uncertainly, as though by saying it out loud she can will it to be true. He cocks an eyebrow at her, but says nothing. Even in his grief, he’s still as much the skeptical investigator as ever. Some things, she supposes, you can’t just turn on and off.

As much as she tries not to, she finds her focus fading in and out during the service. She can practically feel the rage coming off of Alec’s ex in waves, and on top of that, she can’t stop thinking about her encounter in the garden. Had she really seen the ghost of Alec’s mum, or was the stress, pregnancy hormones, and lack of sleep finally catching up with her and causing her to hallucinate? Nothing made sense anymore. If these past few weeks have taught her anything, it’s that she is certain of nothing.

Tristan’s voice drones on, flat and monotonous. By his tone and demeanor, you’d never know the sermon he is delivering is his own wife’s funeral rites, it’s so lacking in warmth or emotion. What kind of cold fish can stand up there and talk about their spouse and the mother of their children as if they are reading the ingredients on a box of Weetabix? She sighs and crosses her legs, trying to will away her anxiety and the sudden urge to empty her bladder. She already feels like Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter, only instead of a giant red “A” sewn on her dress there’s her outrageous cleavage and visibly discernible baby bump. If she gets up in the middle of the service to go to the loo, she might as well hang a neon “Home Wrecker!” sign over her head, every pair of eyes in the church will be on her. Inhaling deeply through her nose, she tries not to think about it, but every minute that ticks by feels agonizingly slower and she isn’t sure how much longer she can hold it. When Alec’s father gives the commendation and the organist begins to play the exit hymn, she lets out an audible sigh of relief, beyond the point of caring how any of the people seated around them might interpret it.

She grabs Alec by the shoulder and squeezes gently. “I’m going to float away if I don’t go to the loo, I’ll meet you out there.”

She sees the visible look of panic in his eyes, perhaps at the thought of being left on his own. “There’s still the burial.”

“I know,” she replies, patting his arm. “I’ll only be a minute, promise. I’ll meet you out there, yeah?” He seems unsure, but as bad as she feels about it, she doesn’t give him time to protest, just exits the pew and makes a beeline towards the hallway where the toilets are.

The clink of the lock slipping into place on the stall door is music to her ears, and this time the sigh of relief she lets out is almost indecent. She’s thankful she’s in here alone, she’d be embarrassed as hell to have anyone but Alec hear her moaning like this. After she finishes, she quickly washes her hands with the generic Pepto Bismol pink soap they have in almost every public loo in the country. While she dries her hands on the too-scratchy paper towel, she examines herself in the mirror, turning to the side so she can measure her baby bump. She sucks in her stomach, inhaling so deep it almost hurts, but her abdomen still juts out noticeably. This is bullshit. It feels like she’s blown up like a balloon practically overnight, and she’s barely five months yet. She feels like it isn’t normal, but then again, she has no personal basis for comparison. When her cousin Claire had been pregnant, you never would’ve known, as thin as she was it had never shown on her lithe little frame. All the searches she’s done on the internet say that most (read: normal) women in their first pregnancy don’t typically start to show until they’re already five or six months along, but clearly she’s surpassed that benchmark already.

“I’m gonna need a bloody C-section, aren’t I?” she asks no one in particular, cradling her abdomen with her hands. Burgeoning belly and conspicuous cleavage aside, she can’t really complain-her hair and nails are healthy and shiny, and it’s done wonders for her skin. The tell-tale pregnancy glow everyone always talks about radiates off her face, better than any expensive highlighter they sell at Sephora. Were it not for the awkwardness of the scenario, she’d probably be feeling pretty good about her looks, but at the least she has the pleasure of knowing that even pregnant she’s managed to make Alec’s ex insanely jealous. She feels a bit bad for thinking it, but after the negative interaction they had with Tess the other night, all she feels is satisfaction. She adjusts her dress and camisole to cover a bit more of her breasts, takes a deep breath, opens the door into the hallway, and almost walks straight into the other woman.

“Oh, well it would be you, wouldn’t it?” Tess says nastily.

Rose rolls her eyes. “Lady, what the hell is your problem? You apparently hate Alec so much, you should be thanking me for taking him off your hands. You cheated on him, remember?”

Tess’s hands clench into fists. “I didn’t cheat on him because I hated him, you idiotic slag. I cheated on him because he loved his work more than he ever loved me or our family. He wasn’t meeting my needs, that’s why I had to look elsewhere. But I’m sure you’ll find out all about that first hand soon enough.”

“Did it ever occur to you,” Rose asks, hands on her hips, “That maybe you weren’t meeting his needs either?”

Tess laughs scornfully. “You poor, stupid child. You haven’t a clue, have you? Just wait, it’s early yet, you’ve got no idea what you’ve gotten yourself into. You’re just a kid trying to play house with someone old enough to be your dad, you don’t know shit about how hard it can and will get.”

“Maybe not,” Rose says, pursing her lips. “But I do know I have enough class to not embarrass myself having this argument with you at my mother-in-law’s funeral. You had your chance at reconciliation with Alec, you wasted it. Now you just want him to be miserable because you are too. What’s wrong, your side piece lose interest once the excitement of adultery wore off? Don’t make it our problem that no one’s interested in your dried up old twat anymore and you’re regretting ruining your marriage for a temporary fling. Nice chatting Tess, now I’m going to leave and go be with my husband, and you can do whatever it is sad old bints do alone in public toilets. Ta!” Rose turns on her heel to walk away, but Tess lets out a furious shriek and grabs her by the hair, yanking so hard that the bones in her neck grind together.

“You little bitch!” the other woman spits before shoving Rose away from her.

Caught off guard, Rose stumbles and trips belly first into the corner of the drinking fountain anchored to the wall. Sharp pain shoots through her abdomen, and she turns to look at the other woman, an incredulous expression on her face. “What the hell is wrong with you? Now look what you’ve done!”

All the color drains out of Tess’s face, and she claps her hands over her mouth, which has pulled into a grimace. “Oh fuck,” she whispers, a horrified expression on her face.

Dizzy with pain, Rose clutches her abdomen and leans against the wall before sliding to the floor. Head swimming, she feels hands on her shoulders, and the last thing she hears before everything dissolves into darkness is Alec’s voice, shrill with alarm, shouting her name.

Chapter Text

In the hospital waiting room, Hardy hangs his head between his knees and showers his shoes with salty tears. He’s a tremendous bloody arsehole, and this is more than half his fault. He never should have come to Scotland, he certainly shouldn’t have brought Rose with him, and now, because of his own selfish desire to have her by his side for his mother’s funeral in spite of any family drama it would cause, he’s put her and their unborn baby in harm’s way. Throwing barbs at Tess last night had felt immensely satisfying after all the pain she has caused him over the years, but now he fears it was the match that lit the fire. He’s always known Tess had anger problems, but never in his wildest dreams could he have imagined that she’d allow herself to become so unhinged with jealousy and rage that she’d assault a pregnant woman. She’s a bloody cop, she should know better!

“I hope you’re planning on pressing charges,” Leenie says from the chair beside him. “I told you back when you first brought Tess home that the bitch was crazy, but this is some next level shit.”

He sits back and scrubs furiously at his eyes. “Rub it in, why don’t you? My pregnant wife is in A&E, possibly at risk of miscarrying. I couldn’t give two shits about my ex right now.”

Leenie crosses her arms and scuffs her shoe against the tile, looking so much like her teenage self it’s almost uncanny. “Sorry,” she mumbles. “But seriously bro, you need an NHO and full-custody of Daisy, that woman is fucking mad. I’ll help you if you want, she’ll be lucky if she’s allowed to send Daisy a postcard after all this.”

“Leenie, I appreciate your concern, but please just drop it,” he says wearily. He can’t even begin to think about what he’ll do if any harm comes to Rose or their child because of this. If Rose is seriously injured, if god forbid she loses the baby...well, Tess will probably need an NHO of her own, because he’ll fucking strangle her if he ever lays eyes on her again. Regardless, he’s going to need a good attorney to deal with his current custody arrangement, because whatever happens after this, he knows for certain he never wants to see the whites of his ex’s eyes ever again. As much as he loves his sister though, he’s not sure it’s best to get her involved in the intimate workings of his life. He’s gone to great lengths to put a comfortable distance between himself and all of his family members, even the ones he cares about. He doesn’t like to get entangled. Entanglements usually lead to complications, and this is just proof of that. Miller would never believe it if she heard him say it, but he would’ve been better off staying in bloody Broadchurch. His mother would’ve forgiven him for not going under the circumstance, but if Rose loses this baby, he’ll never be able to forgive himself.

Leenie sighs, crosses her legs, and then uncrosses them again. “Well, this is shaping up to be a banner day. If I’d known I was going to miss the repass, I would’ve actually eaten Annie’s miserable excuse for toad-in-a-hole this morning.”

“I hate you,” he replies, but there’s an undertone of affection in the statement.

Leenie shrugs. “Have you met me? My Facebook relationship status says I’m in a complicated relationship with poutine. 90% of the things I do are food motivated. Also, you’re a shit liar. You love me, I’m your favorite sister.”

‘Love and hate are two sides of the same coin, Leenie. Trust me, I would know,” he says glumly, leaning his elbows on his knees and propping his chin up on his hands.

“That’s deep,” she says. “You read that in a dystopian young adult fiction?”

“Leenie, I’m not in the fucking mood! No one asked you to come here,” he snaps, louder than he means to. The handful of other people in the waiting room look up at them, and he feels his cheeks burning with shame. “Sorry. I just can’t joke about things right now. Not until I know Rose and the baby are okay.”

Leenie sinks deeper into her chair and folds herself into a pretzel-like shape. “Sorry. I was just trying to cheer you up.”

“Yeah, I know. But you know me, so you should know it’s a fool’s errand,” he replies gruffly. “When in our lifetime have you ever known me to be bloody cheerful on a good day, let alone a bad one?”

She mimes finger guns at him. ‘You’ve got me there, big bro.”

Alec throws his hands up in exasperation. “My teenager is more mature than you are. How are you a lawyer? How?”

The doctor strides out of the doors to the A&E department just then, interrupting their broth-sister back-and-forth. “Mr. Hardy?”

Alec practically trips over himself rushing to his feet. “That’s me. How’s Rose? Is she alright? What about the baby? Is every-”

The doctor holds his hands up, a universal request for silence. “Your wife will be okay. We’re giving her IV fluids-she was dehydrated when she came in, that’s why she passed out, it wasn’t related to the fall. But she’s awake now, if you’d like to see her. Just you though, we don’t want to crowd her right now.”

Alec swallows thickly. “Yes, of course.”

The doctor gestures for him to follow. “Come along, I’ll take you back to see her.”

Alec glances back at his sister, who mouths the words “I’ll wait for you” at him, and though she gets on his last nerve at times, he’s grateful now for her presence. He’s relieved to know that Rose is awake, but uneasier still that the doctor has said nothing about the baby. What if...oh god… He wrings his hands nervously, but finds himself unable to ask the question weighing on his mind. Instead, he just follows silently behind the doctor, each step filling him with an increasing sense of dread. The doctor leads him back behind a blue curtain and into a too small cubicle, where Rose is sitting propped up in a hospital bed, looking infinitely tired and impossibly lovely. Were they not in a hospital, you’d never know the trauma she’d endured mere hours earlier by the looks of her. Barely a hair is out of place and she’s still got a glow about her.

“Hey,” she says with a weak smile, waving the hand without an IV poking out of it.

His composure breaks, and he starts to cry: tears of relief for his wife, tears of sorrow for his mother, tears of frustration for his entire family and the gigantic fucking mess this whole affair has been from the moment Leenie had called him with the news that their mother had died. “Rose,” he croaks, wrapping his arms awkwardly around her. “I’m so sorry. So bloody sorry.”

“Shhh, hey, it’s alright. ‘M fine, okay,” she says soothingly. “And since I’m sure you’re blaming yourself for it, let it be said that this isn’t your fault.”

“Of course it’s my bloody fault!” he insists tearfully. ‘How could it not be? I’m the one who insisted on bringing you with me, if I’d d just been man enough to come on my own none of this ever would’ve happened!”

“Listen bub, for starters, there’s absolutely no shame in wanting or needing emotional support when you’re coping with something as traumatic as losing a parent. And secondly, you didn’t push me, psycho hose beast did. And she’s fucking nuts, and that’s why you’re divorced now,” Rose says simply. She glances apologetically at the doctor. “Excuse my language, sir.”

The doctor flaps his hand dismissively. “It’s quite alright dear, I’m Welsh. We practically invented swearing. Under the circumstances of what you’ve been through, I think you’ve earned an allotment of at least a few good curse words.”

Rose chuckles. “I like you, doctor. You’re fun.”

“Tell that to my wife, I think my brand of humor is lost on her,” he replies.

“What about the baby?” Alec interjects, no longer able to stand the suspense of not knowing. “Is the baby alright?”

Rose and the doctor exchange an uneasy look that makes his heart drop. “Yeah...about the baby. You should probably sit down,” she says gently.

“Oh god,” he says, balling his hands up into fists and pressing them against his face, already preparing himself to hear the exact thing he’s been fearing. The sweat on the back of his neck suddenly feels cold, and his heart is pounding. Well, at least if he’s going to have a heart attack, he’s in the right place, but he’s not sure his soul (what’s left of it) will be able to bear the news he suspects he’s about to receive. He drops clumsily down onto the edge of the bed, feeling slightly dazed.

They both must see the look on his face, because Rose grabs his hand and squeezes it. “Relax, Alec. The baby is fine. And so is her sister.”

He’s sure he must’ve misheard what Rose just said and it takes him a moment to muster a response. “Wait...what?”

Rose smiles, but this time it reaches her eyes. She grabs a manila envelope off the little table next to the bed and slides it across the blanket to him. “Remember a few weeks before your surgery, when you said you hoped it was a boy and I said I’d always hoped for one of each? Well, we’re gonna have to try again. It’s twins, two girls. Which explains why I’m already enormous at barely 18 weeks.”

In a daze, Alec opens the envelope and pulls out the sonogram tucked inside of it. Sure enough the image, though dark and a bit blurry, very clearly shows two heads, four arms, and four legs. “I don’t understand. The first ultrasound...there was only one. We only heard the one heartbeat. Right?”

The doctor shrugs. “It’s very hard to distinguish individual heartbeats early on, especially if they’re beating mostly in tandem.”

“It’s 2013. They’ve made bionic eyes and talking rubbish bins, how the bloody hell do you miss an entire damn baby during an ultrasound?” he asks incredulously.

“It’s the NHS, the ultrasound tech was probably inexperienced,” the doctor replies defensively. “It’s rare, but it happens. When your wife had her first ultrasound, the second embryo was probably behind the first one. And that early on, it really can be hard to tell, depending on what position each one is in.”

“Surprise!” Rose exclaims awkwardly, shrugging her shoulders and holding her palms up.

“Bloody hell,” he says, wiping the tears from his cheeks before they can cut tracks down his face and drip onto the sonogram. “I thought we’d lost our baby, here we’ve gone and gained one instead. I don’t even know what to say.”

“I think he took the news remarkably well,” the doctor says cheerfully. “I’ve seen grown men pass out when they were only expecting one and found out it was multiples instead.”

Alec can’t even be mad at the jokes at his expense, the flood of relief he feels is like a drink of cool water on a hot summer day. He wraps his arm around Rose’s shoulder and presses a kiss to the crown of her head. “I love you,” he whispers, affectionately rubbing her belly with his free hand.

“I love you too,” she whispers back, placing her hand over top of his.

Underneath his open palm, he feels a flutter of movement and in his chest he feels his heart skip a beat. Tears of joy and relief are streaming down his face, and at this rate he’s going to need an IV too, because he’s sure he must’ve cried twice his body weight just in the last few hours. Rose is okay. Their baby is okay. Their babies are okay. That last one is going to take some getting used to.

“I think we’re gonna need to rent a bigger place,” he says wryly, and she laughs and the sound is better than any medicine. Maybe everything actually will be alright, for once. He’s not sure what he’s done to deserve it, but nonetheless and in spite of everything else that has happened lately, he can actually say in this moment that he is truly happy. He’s loathe to use the word blessed, but it certainly feels that way. He hasn’t done anything to earn these gifts he’s been given, it’s as though god or the universe has seen fit to bestow them upon him. He resolves right then that even if this isn’t some cosmic sign, he probably ought to treat it as one. As soon as they’re home in Broadchurch, safely ensconced and away from his family drama, he’s got to tell her the truth about the job offer in London. Because as much as he fears the city that took his sister’s life and being so far from his teenage daughter, he fears losing his new wife and their two precious babies even more. As awful as this whole thing has been, it’s certainly been a wake up call for him, and he realizes now more than ever which things are truly important to him.

The doctor clears his throat awkwardly, perhaps uncomfortable at being witness to such a private moment. “Anyway, I’ll give you two a moment of privacy, I’m going to have the nurse get the discharge paperwork ready. It’ll be a little while yet, but I don’t expect we’ll need to keep you for more than another hour or two, so long as you’re feeling okay.”

“Thank you doctor,” Alec says sincerely, though honestly, he’d probably feel the same way about Jack the Ripper if he were the one who’d told him his wife was going to be okay. In his pocket, he feels his mobile vibrate. Evidently, he’d forgotten to turn it off earlier. He fumbles the device out of his pocket and squints at the screen-he’s forgotten his glasses in Rose’s car. He can make it out just enough though.

1 new message from: Darling Daughter
Mum is completely mad, dad. She’s freaking me out. Can I please come live with you and Rose? I can’t take this shit anymore.

“Ah bollocks,” he says with a sigh. “We’re really going to need a bigger place.”

“What is it?” she asks, peering over his shoulder to look at the screen. “Daisy wants to come stay with us?”

“Yeah, she does,” he replies. “But...how does she even know we’re living together? I wonder if Tess said something to her about us…”

Rose frowns and rubs her chin. “Ah...well...I didn’t want to say anything to you earlier, because I knew you wanted to be the one to tell her about us, but she was apparently eavesdropping when I was out in the garden this morning on the phone with Jake and then my mum, and based on what she overheard, it wasn’t too hard for her to connect the dots on her own. But she seemed okay with it, y’know? Just said she wanted you to be happy. I’m sorry, I should’ve told you. Please don’t be angry.”

He sighs. “How could I be mad with you over that? After everything else that happened today? It’s barely on my radar. And you saved me from having what probably would’ve been a seriously awkward and uncomfortable conversation. It’s whatever. So Daisy knows, big deal. The bigger deal is her wanting to live with us. Would you be okay with that? I don’t know how I even feel about it myself, she’s barely spoken to me for months and now she apparently wants to live with me.”

Rose shrugs noncommittally. “I mean she’s sixteen right? She’s basically a fully-baked adult at this point, I don’t see the harm if you don’t. But as you said, we’ll most definitely need a bigger place. And I know you’d said after the baby was born you’d request a transfer closer to London. I’ve got to be honest, though...we’ll probably need at least three bedrooms now and in a neighborhood with decent schools, that’s not gonna come cheap, especially if you’re the only one working. I mean, I was prepared to look for work and all that, but I think daycare for two kids would probably cost more a month than a girl who doesn’t even have A-levels could make. I never thought I’d be a stay-at-home-mum, but here we are.”

“So what are you saying?” he asks, not completely sure what she’s getting at. IS she unsure about going home now?

“I dunno. We’ve got some time to think about it I guess...but maybe we should stay in Broadchurch. At least for now. Especially if Daisy’s gonna come stay with us, it wouldn’t make sense to uproot he and have her change schools twice so close to being finished high school. London will still be there a year or two from now, I suppose,” she says wistfully.

Honestly, he may still have an episode of some kind, the shocks just keep coming. “Are you sure you’re alright with that?”

“No,” she answers quickly. “But I’m trying to be practical rather than selfish. It just doesn’t make sense to go to London right now, and who knows if and when a position would be available for you anyway.”

Presented with the perfect opportunity to tell her about the job offer, he finds his courage has fled. What if he tells her and she changes her mind about staying in Broadchurch? It was what he had wanted all along, honestly, but he has been trying to convince himself otherwise because he’s also trying (and evidently failing) to be less of a selfish arse. He swallows thickly. “Right. Of course. Just a slight change of plans.”

She traces her finger around the amorphous baby-shaped outlines on the sonogram laying on the bed in between them. “I still can’t believe we’re having twins. This is all getting a little too real a little too fast. Mum’s gonna lose her shit when I tell her.”

Stifling a groan, he pulls her closer to him. “Oh God. Raising one teenage girl at a time is hard enough, but two? I’m getting grey hairs just thinking about it.”

“Spoiler alert,” she whispers. “You already have grey hairs.”

“Hush you!” he admonishes, but he’s chuckling. “They make me look distinguished, thank you very much.”

“Yeah okay, keep telling yourself that,” she laughs, pressing a kiss against his cheek.

Chapter Text

“Yes I know we just signed a lease on a two bedroom, but that was before we knew we were expecting twin girls and having my teenage step-daughter move in with us, for pity’s sake,” Rose pleads with the real estate agent. “Besides, this is a nice little cottage, I’m sure you’ll have no trouble at all renting it out to someone else.”

“It’s nearly the end of summer, I think it’ll be a bit harder to rent a seaside cottage than you’re imagining,” the real estate agent replies dryly. “I may have a four bedroom available out on Seaward North, it’s been up on the market a few months. If you break the lease on the cottage though you’ll forfeit your security deposit.”

Rose sighs, blowing her fringe out of her face. That security deposit hadn’t exactly been a pittance and Alec is currently the only one of them working. “How much is the rent on the four bedroom?”

“A thousand a month, utilities not included.”

Rose almost bites the inside of her cheek. “Christ!” she exclaims before she can stop herself. “That’s twice what we’re paying right now!”

“Yes, and it also has twice the number of bedrooms and bathrooms you’re currently paying for. Plus it has a garage and a garden as well,” the agent replies curtly. “Unless of course you were just dying to have that much estrogen crammed into a tiny two bedroom, in which case you’re obviously free to stay in the cottage that you already signed a legally binding lease on.”

“Funny, I don’t remember you describing this place as tiny when you showed it to us. Why’s the other house been up on the market so long then?” Rose asks. It’s the only leg she really has to stand on right now, wobbly or not.

On the other end of the phone, the real estate agent hesitates. “It’s silly really, but I suppose people round here are just superstitious like that. It’s two doors down from the Latimers...but also, the last family that lived there left suddenly and no one knows why. The kids all say it’s haunted or some such nonsense, but you know how children can be. The previous tenants were on the verge of eviction, they probably left to avoid being locked out.”

“So are we talking £900 a month haunted or £700 a month haunted?” Rose asks coyly. “You did say it had been up on the market for awhile and well, you know how small town mentality works when it comes to things like that.”

The agent lets out an exasperated sigh. “I suppose I could try to convince them to rent it to you for £800 a month. It’s only back-to-school time, not like I need my commission to survive on or anything like that.”

Just then the patio door slams open as Alec strides into the house, an irritated expression on his face and what looks like tea or coffee all over his shirt.

“Y’know what, let me talk to my husband about it and call you back,” Rose says hurriedly, ending the call without giving the agent a chance to protest. She catches Alec’s tie as he whips it off his shoulders. “How’d the custody arrangement meeting go, or do I not want to know?”

“Well, Tess threw a cup of lukewarm Starbucks at me, so you know, it went about as well as expected,” he grumbles, balling up the shirt and chucking it carelessly at the table. “That was my second favorite shirt, too. Bollocks.”

“But you won, right?” Rose asks, twisting the tie anxiously in her hands. She barely knows Alec’s eldest daughter but she knows how much it would mean to him to have her around again, especially as a big sister. The prospect of being stepmother to a teenage girl though has her stomach knotted up with nervousness. She’s still young enough that her teenage years are still fresh and vivid in her memory and lord knows she gave Jackie a run for her money on many more occasions than she cares to admit. She's slightly concerned karma is about to bite her in the arse.

Alec snorts. “Course we won. Leenie didn’t really give Tess much of a choice, though. Told her she could take the custody arrangement we were offering or go to court on assault charges for what she did to you at the funeral. About then was when Tess threw the coffee at me and Daisy told everyone she’d rather live in a cardboard box than stay with a jealous psychopath. So I get primary custody, Tess gets her two weekends a month and some holidays, pending a mandatory psych eval. She has a week to pack Daisy up and have Leenie bring her down here, since part of the agreement is that she’s to have extremely limited contact with you or I. She’s absolutely livid. I should feel a bit bad about it, but I kinda really don’t. But then again, I am also kind of a bastard. The schadenfreude is real, as the kids would say.”

“Yikes,” she replies. She didn't know what else she’d been expecting. “But you’re not a bastard, you’re totally justified to be angry, she screwed you over in more ways than one.”

“Yeah,” he agrees, flopping down beside her in an empty chair and using his dirty shirt to mop the sweat off his brow. “For a seaside cottage, this place gets no cross breeze whatsoever. On that note, did you fare any better with the real estate agent?”

“If you don’t mind paying an extra £300 a month to live in a supposedly haunted house then sure,” she replies. “It does have four bedrooms, two baths, a garden and a garage though. They wanted £1000 a month, but I bargained them down to £800 because of the ghosts and tragedy and all that.”

He scoffs. “That’s a bargain. I can live with creaky floorboards and cold spots for that price. It takes a lot more than that to scare someone who’s been working homicides as long as I have.”

“We don’t even know why people think it’s haunted, all the real estate agent told me is that the last family who lived there disappeared suddenly and no one knows what happened,” she tells him, chewing on the end of the pencil she’s been using to doodle with while she was on the phone.

He flaps his hand dismissively. “Who cares? The living scare me a whole lot more than the dead and there’s no such thing as ghosts anyway.”

She raises her eyebrows. “On that note...it’s two doors down from the Latimers.”

He closes his eyes and lets his head roll back against the top of his chair. “Bollocks,” he says, softly but with emphasis.

“I was afraid you’d say that. Would it really be so bad though? Beth and I used to be friends, maybe I could smooth things over” Rose says hopefully.

“She thinks I’m an idiot, that her son’s killer was right under my nose and I didn’t even notice. I don’t think even you can smooth that over,” he replies wearily. “I suppose it could be worse, they could be directly next door. Still...close enough to be incredibly awkward and uncomfortable.”

She grabs his hand and runs her ring finger gently along the inside of his wrist. “I know you think even I can’t smooth it over, but I could at least try. Alec, I don’t want to stress you out more than you already are...but we really need to figure out the living situation soon, before it becomes impractical or impossible to move. There’s definitely not enough room in this cottage for two grown adults, a teenager, and two infants and I really don’t want to be moving in my third trimester unless absolutely necessary, the stress isn’t good for the babies. If we’re gonna move again we need to do it sooner rather than later.”

“I know, I know,” he sighs, scrubbing at the stubble on his cheeks with his palms. “I mean, I could care less about living in a supposedly haunted house, I don’t believe in any of that supernatural nonsense. But what about you? You’re more...open minded than I am, would it bother you?”

“Well I’d want to see the place before we agreed to rent it, supposedly haunted or not. Living in London I’ve learned the hard way about renting sight unseen,” she chuckles, recalling one of the first places she and Jake had ever rented together. The second bedroom had actually been a walk-in closet underneath the staircase of their upstairs neighbors. Jake hadn’t found all the Harry Potter jokes nearly as funny as she had, especially after losing the coin toss for the bigger bedroom.
“Well go on then,” he says, gesturing vaguely in the direction of her mobile. “Call the real estate agent back, tell her we want to take a tour.”

“Can we afford it?” she asks, feeling guilty. Alec had told her not to worry about finding work, but as she had told the real estate agent, that had been before they’d known she was carrying twins and Daisy would be coming to live with them. That’s two extra bodies neither one of them had anticipated clothing, feeding, and sheltering. What sort of job could she even find in a shore town at the end of the summer? Could she convince Becca Fisher that an obviously pregnant bartender wouldn’t be a liability? Between the surgery and his mum dying Alec had already missed quite a bit of work, she imagines it had put a hefty dent in whatever savings he might have had or at least used up any sick leave or personal time he had available. Seeing as they’re married she should probably know, but she’s admittedly mostly in the dark about their (his) financial situation.

“We’ll manage,” he says, his gruff tone indicating the conversation is closed. It does little to reassure her.

“Are you sure?” she asks, still twisting the tie anxiously in her hands.

“I-we don’t have much of a choice, do we?” he answers her. “It is what it is, I’ll sort it out.”

“Well shit,” she thinks silently. “Now I kinda have to find a job.”

* * * * *

“I like it already, it’s not 900 degrees with the windows open like it is in the cottage,” Alec observes.

“Yes, and the walls are gypsum so they hold heat very well, there’s fireplaces in the living room and master bedrooms, so you can make it quite cozy in here once it gets cold. I know it seems hard now when it’s still so hot but fall and winter are really just around the corner,” the real estate agent remarks.

“Good, I bloody hate summer,” he grouses, pulling back the curtains to peek out the window. “You can actually see the cliffs and the ocean from here. Hmm.”

The real estate agent practically falls all over herself to agree with him. “Yes, it’s actually got one of the best views on the street. The way the house is angled, you can see the fields and the ocean, it’s lovely.”

Rose moves beside him and lifts the other curtain to peak outside. The view is like something out of a painting-the back garden, lush with late-blooming roses and garish purple dahlias, the unruly patch of raspberries growing wild along the hedges that define the edge of the garden, and beyond that the grass, the cliffs, the ocean and beach. The beach where they’d found Danny Latimer’s body, and somewhere above and beyond, the little shack where he’d lost his life. She wonders if Beth can see that beach from her house, and for the sake of her old friend, she hopes not. Alec’s gaze is pensive, fixed on the ocean. He looks like he’s remembering something unpleasant.

“You all right?” she asks softly, laying her hand on his arm.

He jerks back, as though she’s startled him. He shakes his head and looks at her. “What? Oh, yeah...I’m fine. Just got a lot on my mind, that’s all.”

Oblivious to the sudden change of energy in the room, the real estate agent prattles on. “They just put in all new energy efficient appliances last year. Three kids, you’ll be doing lots of laundry but you want have to worry about it driving up your utility bills. There’s plenty of room in the garden too if you wanted to air dry clothes. Honestly, it’s the perfect home, especially if you’ve got young kids. I know you were only looking for three bedrooms initially, but the floor plan is so open and that fourth bedroom would make a great office or playroom, plus there’s the garage and attic for additional storage.”

“Sounds like a dream home,” Alec says with as much enthusiasm as he’s expressed in awhile.

Rose isn’t so sure. Aesthetically, it would be a beautiful home, but something about it feels off. Perhaps the suggestion alone that the place is reputed to be haunted may be influencing how she feels. But the other thing is that Broadchurch was supposed to be temporary, and this feels..well, a bit like putting down even more roots than she already has. The cottage had felt like a beach house, but this place feels very much lived in, more home than house, more heavy than light. She’s still eager to get back to the throb and pulse of London, the only place she’s ever felt at home. Broadchurch is nice, but in the sort of way that the place you go on holiday should be. She feels like an outsider here. And truth be told, since Alec’s mum had died and they’d found out about the second baby and Daisy, all she can think about is how she can’t imagine trying to raise three daughters without her own mum and best friend by her side. Guilt sinks its claws into her gut. This had been her idea, how can she tell him now that she doesn’t want it?

“What do you think, Mrs. Hardy?” the real estate agent asks, a slight edge in her voice.

“Did you ever request that transfer? To London?” she blurts out.

Alec stares at her, an inscrutable expression on his face. He crosses his arms over his chest and looks back out the window. “I did actually, and it was approved. There’s a position open for a PCI with the Metropolitan Police, but unfortunately there’s a hiring freeze in that particular department right now. Budget cuts. They told me they can get me in there, but they weren’t sure how long it would take.”

Rose’s heart sinks. “Well when were you going to tell me this?”

“Well they told me the same day I found out my mum died, so you’ll have to excuse me if I was too preoccupied with that to give you even more disappointing news,” he says in perhaps the sharpest tone he’s ever addressed her with. The look he’s giving her practically strings.

The real estate agent looks about half as uncomfortable as Rose feels. How fast will the rumors spread about Detective Hardy and his brand new wife’s relationship already being on the rocks? Fucking small towns. She knew she shouldn’t have said anything to him and now she’s kicking herself. What had she been thinking? Although he always put on a brave face, she of all people knew he was probably falling apart inside trying to cope with everything that had happened recently. Asking him about the transfer had probably felt like an attack, even if she hadn’t meant it that way. It’s the grief consuming him, she knows it, but it doesn’t matter when he himself is unwilling to acknowledge that’s what’s going on. She doesn’t know what he needs, she doesn’t think even he knows what he needs right now. All she wants to do is comfort him and help him, but she feels powerless to do so.

“Course,” she replies, her voice and lips trembling as the first hot tears begin to squeeze their way out the corners of her eyes. “I’m sorry.”

His face and voice immediately soften and he wraps his arms around her before she can protest. “Oh no, Rose please don’t cry. I’m sorry. It’s not you, it’s me. I’m just overwhelmed right now. We both are. There’s been a lot going on.”

“Yeah,” she mumbles into his chest. “I guess we should take this house then, huh?”

“You really don’t want to, do you?” he says. The question is rhetorical, of course.

“I’m just homesick, that’s all. Besides...like you said, there’s a hiring freeze. We couldn’t afford to stay there without at least one of us working and obviously even if I could find a job, it wouldn’t be enough to support all of us and I wouldn’t be able to work for much longer, anyway. It doesn’t matter if I want it, it’s not practical.”

The real estate agent chuckles nervously as she slinks towards the kitchen. “Uh, I’ll just give you two a moment of privacy…”

“Look, I’m no fan of Broadchurch either,” he says, cupping her chin with his palm. “Trust me, I want out of here as bad as you do. But I still do have to be here for the trial regardless and Miller needs the few friends she still has right now. We all need each other.”

“Suppose,” she agrees reluctantly, still unable to shake the feeling that a storm is coming. If she’s being honest, that feeling’s been there under the surface even before the night Alec had punched Jimmy Stone in the face at that rest area outside Blackpool. She remembers how she’d been sitting on that stupid beach with Ellie and she’d just had that gut feeling that something was wrong. Every time she thinks life can’t get more like a soap opera, something else dramatic or tragic happens. Neither one of them can catch a break. No wonder they’re both tense and emotionally exhausted.

“Look, I love you. Alright?” he whispers in her ear. “It’ll be okay, we’ll get through. It’s not forever. That extra bedroom could be a guest bedroom, Jake or your mum can come visit whenever and however long they like. And besides, this place has fireplaces too. I have always wanted to shag you in front of the fire on a bear skin carpet.”

“Get out!” she exclaims, shoving him playfully.

“Thought we could both use a little levity,” he says with a smile that doesn’t quite touch his tired eyes. “I’m gonna go let the real estate agent know we’ll take it before she decides to call someone and have us both sectioned.”

Chapter Text

Rose wipes the sweat off her forehead with the back of her wrist and surveys her handiwork with a deep sense of satisfaction (and maybe just a touch of jealousy). She would’ve killed for a bedroom like this when she’d been a teenager, a time which seems simultaneously out of reach and still painfully tangible. Less than ten years ago she’d been the same age Daisy was now and she desperately hopes that in that interim the things teenage girls like hasn’t changed too much. Alec is probably going to kill her for painting the room without him, but there’s realistically only so many afternoons she can pass watching reruns of Coronation Street while he’s at work before she starts to develop serious anxiety about whether or not she is, in fact, turning into her own mother.

Best not to dwell on it. Rose obviously loves her mother, but has little desire to be more like Jackie Tyler than she already is. The number of parallels in their young adult lives is already too much for comfort and though she keeps telling herself that her and Alec are nothing like her mum and the father she never knew, she can’t shake the feeling that she herself may be destined to a similar fate as her mother. She has enough on her mind already without wasting headspace comparing her marriage to her parents’. That’s a dark road to be going down.

She’s trying not to let it overwhelm her, but it’s difficult not to. Six months ago, she’d been a single bartender at a dive bar in London, barely making ends meat and living with her best mate. Now she was married to a guy who could afford to buy (and make!) her something other than cup noodles for dinner and about to inherit a teenage step-daughter, with two daughters of her own on the way. No one had ever taught her how to do this, to be this person, and most days she feels like she’s flying by the seat of her pants. She keeps busy in spite of the exhaustion to stave off the impending existential crisis it feels like she’s been teetering on the brink of for some time now.

That was what had compelled her drive out to HomeBase at 7:37am this morning and buy the paint in the first place. She loves Alec and she’s trying to force herself to love the life they’re carving out for themselves here in Broadchurch, but still can’t help the feeling of being a child playing pretend. Maybe some of what Tess had said had gotten under her skin and into her head in spite of Alec telling her not to give the frigid harpy the satisfaction. So much of this feels way over her head, given the relatively carefree life she had lead up until the point where she’d gotten pregnant from a one night stand and ended up marrying the guy. Seeing Jimmy at that rest area in Scotland had really fucked her up, more so than she wants to admit, and she’s spent a lot of time in the last few days thinking about that relationship and everything she had done wrong, all the warnings gone unnoticed or unheeded. That was the problem though-hindsight’s 20/20. Looking back at her relationship with Jimmy now it’s easy to see the red flags she’d ignored and explained away, but at the time she’d thought she was happy and now can’t help but wonder if she’s doing that all over again.

Jimmy had broken her down so much over the years that sometimes she feels like she can’t even trust her own judgment. Is she honestly ready to parent a teenager or raise two babies with a man she hasn’t even known a year with the only support system she has outside of him three hours away? She knows Alec isn’t deliberately trying to isolate her from her friends and family like Jimmy had, but it’s not any easier to deal with feeling so alone sometimes. Technically, her only friend is Ellie and that’s probably only because Alec had pushed for the two of them to hang out together. Ellie is sweet, but she’s older and wiser and just being around her makes Rose feel insecure about her own life experience and impending motherhood. And now Beth will be right down the road too and while she had initially been fairly confident about salvaging that relationship, but now she’s not so sure. After all, as much as it feels like a soap opera, this is real life and not some fantasy fiction. Beth had been the one older kid who’d been nice to her at camp, was a bond that tenuous really going to make up for the fact that Beth also apparently believed her husband had some responsibility in letting Joe Miller go undetected for so long? Now that she’s had time to think about it, it seems less and less likely. But she has to try. She’s been listening to the Spice Girls while she paints and tries to gather the courage to call Beth and suggest that maybe Chloe could help show Daisy around town and look out for her at school.

Maybe the pregnancy hormones really are addling her brain.

Downstairs, the front door groans as if in pain before opening, the wood swollen with the humidity. Alec swears as he tries to force it shut behind him. “Bloody door! Rose? You awake, love?”

She dips her paintbrush into a pan of opalescent pink and yellow glitter paint. “I’m up in Daisy’s room!” she shouts down to him, flicking artful splashes of glitter onto the still drying swaths of lavender, teal, and magenta.

He frowns immediately when he walks into the room. “I don’t like the idea of you up on that ladder when you’re home alone. Did you ask the landlord if you could go all Jackson Pollock in here before you started? Is that paint non-toxic?”

“Well hello to you too, Buzz Killington,” she says, wiping her hands on her paint spotted shorts before carefully climbing down just far enough that she can give him a welcoming kiss. “What do you think?”

“I think it looks like you either inhaled too many paint fumes or dropped acid and decided to paint a unicorn galaxy all over my daughter’s bedroom,” he says. “But I think she’ll love it, especially the glitter stars.”

She climbs down the rest of the way and sets her brush on the drop cloth. “I bought a couple rolls of sparkly tulle, I’m going to tack it up over the ceiling and probably hang some little star-shaped fairy lights up there,” she says, pointing with her finger to illustrate. “I want to make it cozy for her. I don’t want her to feel like...ah, I don’t want her to feel like it’s her against these twins, y’know? I want her to feel welcome here.”

“That’s sweet of you. But also, you’re banned from Pinterest,” he teases.

“I’m nesting,” she defends herself.

“I know you are and I know I say this all of the time, but what did I do to deserve you? I appreciate how much you’ve gone out of your way to help make this easier for her and me,” he murmurs, pulling her against him and wrapping his arms loosely around her waist. His fingers splay against the bare skin of her abdomen and he chuckles. “Do you always do all of your household painting half-naked?”

“Oi!” she says defensively. “Listen, the paint is low-fume but I had to open all the windows up just to be safe and I’ve been up and down that ladder probably eight dozen times today. So sue me if I got a little hot and took off my shirt.”

His hands glide over the swell of her belly to cup her breasts through her sports bra. “You seem more than a little hot to me.”

She shivers against him but the moment is broken by the chime of the doorbell and her shiver becomes a sag of defeat. “Shit, that’s probably the furniture delivery men here with the bed and cribs.”

He swears and sighs. “I still can’t believe I let you talk me into getting Swedish furniture. Suppose I ought to go help them bring the boxes up. If I start now, I might have the cribs assembled by the time the twins are in kindergarten and I can gift the bed to Daisy as a graduation or wedding present, whichever comes first.”

“Oh come on,” she chuckles. “Everyone knows you aren’t officially married until you put an Iikea bed together and survive. It’s the only relationship test that matters.”

He gestures vaguely around them. “Gonna be hard to put a bed together while you’re playing peyote Picasso in here. Maybe we should just go lay down on our bed instead.”

“Oi!” she smacks his arm. “It’s colorful, it’s supposed to be. Besides, I’m almost finished. Just a few more glitter splatters and then I can help you put the bed together. We’ve got to stay focused, she’ll be here in a few days.”

Alec’s left eyebrow tilts up skeptically. “You’re almost five months pregnant, I don’t know if you need to be putting an Iikea bed together right now. I’m not trying to put you into very premature labor.”

She rolls her eyes. “I think you’re exaggerating about how bad it is. Besides, they invented UTube for a reason.”

“Rose, there are no instructions, just bloody stupid pictures showing you what to do and not to do and they’re useless because they were probably drawn by the devil himself and you can’t tell what the pictures are supposed to be of until after you’ve already done the thing they were trying to tell you not to!” he exclaims.

“Guess I’ll just have to watch you do it instead,” she says with a smirk.

“Are you sure I can’t convince you to take a nap with me right now on the bed that’s already put together?” he pleads.

“Go answer the door, Hardy. You had the option to pay an expert to assemble it for you, you declined,” Rose reminds him. “Something about outrageous fees to pound wood and fragile masculinity.”

The doorbell rings again and Alec grumbles. “Don’t think it went exactly like that but point taken. As a Scotsman though it’s my prerogative to be stubborn like that. How much do you think I’d have to pay them to put it together for me now?”

“Get out!” she laughs, threatening him with her glittery paintbrush. Exhausted as she is (a daily occurrence these days), she forces herself to remain patient as she carefully flicks glitter onto the walls of what will become her teenage stepdaughter’s bedroom. She’s just finishing up when Alec returns a few minutes later, looking entirely too pleased with himself.

“They’re going to put Daisy’s bed together for twenty quid. One of them owes some traffic fines, I’m going to see about having them waived for him. Let’s go to bed?” he asks her hopefully.

“Oh, alright,” she acquiesces. “But just so you know, I actually intend to take a nap. Being pregnant is exhausting. All I ever want to do is sleep anymore.”

“Well, if you can manage to stay awake, I promise to make it worth your while,” he says coyly, caressing her inner thigh before stroking her through the thin material of her bottoms.

“Hmmm. We’ll see,” she answers, but she’s already sliding the shorts over her hips as she walks down the hall towards their bedroom. With all the extra blood flowing through her body, it seems all it takes to turn her on these days is a sultry look and he knows it, the bloody tease. But he’s been seemingly insatiable himself lately, apparently craving more physical affection than usual in the wake of his mother’s death. She’s not complaining though, the regular orgasms have been quite nice. Alec is fast on her heels and he locks the bedroom door behind them, not bothering to undress himself before throwing her down on the bed.

“It’s the first time we’re shagging in this house, are you sure you really want the furniture delivery guys overhearing us?” she asks as he presses kisses against her neck.

“If they hear us, they hear us. Let them be jealous,” he says, his fingers skimming the waistband of her knickers.

She playfully slaps his hand away. “You want them to hear us, don’t you?”

Undeterred, he tugs on the silky fabric until she tilts her hips to accommodate. He slides them off her body with a familiar and practiced ease. “I’m afraid I can neither confirm nor deny these allegations,” he tells the juncture of her thighs before burying his face between them.

Rose lays back against the bed, biting her lip and closing her eyes. In the few short months they’ve been together, he’s learned exactly how to press her buttons and knows just how much she likes being teased. His tongue moves slowly and deliberately against her already slick skin, applying suction and pressure everywhere but the place she wants it most. Gritting her teeth, she buries her fingers in the hair at the nape of his neck and tugs hard. With an appreciative sigh, she wraps her legs around his head, trying to force him closer. As her breath becomes rapid and shallow, she grips the blankets beneath her and and…

The sound of glass shattering breaks the relative silence of the bedroom like a gunshot. Alec’s head whips up from between her thighs, and his eyes are wide and alert. “What the fuck was that?”

She jerks upwards, equally startled. “I don’t know. I can’t tell if it came from above or below us. It sounded big though.”

Alec gets to his feet, shakes his head, and wipes his mouth on the back of his hand. “I swear to god if one of those chavs somehow managed to break a window, I’ll kill them. You stay here, I’ll go investigate. I’ve got more clothes on.”

“Right,” she says uncertainly, picking her knickers up off the floor and sliding them back on. “We’ll just uh, resume this later.”

“Hold that thought,” he says meaningfully, patting her arse before he slips out the door.

There’s no reason she should feel anxious sitting alone in her own bedroom during the daytime, but for some reason she does. Uneasily, she notes that the closet door is open just a crack and she gets up to shut up. That tiny sliver of darkness from an open closet door has always unsettled her, ever since she was a kid. Her entire life she’s been fairly insistent about never sleeping in a bed that faces the closet door. Moments after she pushes the door shut, it pops back open again. Stupid humidity. She can’t wait for bloody autumn. She shuts the door again, leaning into it this time to make sure it’s set firmly in the jamb. When she lets go of the handle, it stays put. Satisfied, she hops back onto the bed. The closet door is already open again when she turns her head.

“Really?” she says out loud, to no one in particular. “It’s like that, is it?”

“Who are you talking to?”

She nearly jumps out of her skin, but it’s just Alec, leaning in the open bedroom door. She sighs with relief. “Just myself, since I’m apparently going crazy. Did you find what broke?”

He crosses his arms and shakes his head. “No, there was no sign of any broken glass. The delivery guy’s heard it too, but we all looked and there were no broken windows or anything, not that we could find. Maybe there was a car accident or something nearby.”

“Yeah, maybe. Weird,” she says, swallowing thickly. The hair on the back of her neck is standing up. Whatever it was hadn’t sounded like a car accident, there’d been no screeching metal, just the sound of shattering glass.

“Don’t,” he says softly.

“Don’t what?” she asks, but she’s pretty sure she knows where he’s going with this.

“Don’t suggest that this place is bloody haunted,” he warns.

“You said it, not me. Anyway, you didn’t find any broken glass, so I guess we’re all crazy. That’s fine,” she says tartly. She doesn’t say out loud what she’s currently thinking: some detective you are. How is he not more concerned that they can’t seem to locate the source of a sound that all of them heard?

He begins to unbutton his shirt. “Shall we pick up where we left off?”

“Actually, I’m pretty tired,” she answers. “I think I’m going to take that nap. Maybe later.”

“Oh,” he says, pausing on the last button. “Well, alright. I guess I’ll start dinner then, you’ll probably be hungry when you wake up.”

“Yeah, maybe,” she says, crawling under the covers and drawing them around her like a cocoon. She knows she’s being petty, especially because she doesn’t actually want to be alone right now. But she feels weird, too. Maybe the low-fume paint hadn’t been so low-fume after all.

“You sure you’re alright?” he asks, hesitating in the doorway.

She musters a smile. She’s annoyed, but she can’t be angry that he isn’t a mind reader. “Yeah, I’ll be fine. Just need a bit of rest. And yeah, I probably will be hungry by the time I wake up, so some dinner would be lovely.”

She tries to get comfortable, but the twins feel like they’re having a kickboxing tournament inside of her. Propping herself up with pillows, she rests her folded hands over her swollen belly and marvels at the feeling of movement beneath her palms. Almost twenty weeks in, and she still can’t quite get over the fluttering sensation of life within her, nor the ever expanding size of her midsection every time she looks in the mirror. Alec always tells her how cute her pregnant belly is and lord knows he can’t get enough of her now DD cup breasts, but she feels entirely self-conscious about a body she no longer recognizes as her own and she’s still got at least another 16 weeks to go, assuming she actually delivers around her due date. The doctor at the hospital in Scotland had told her it was common to go into labor early with multiples. She wonders if this will offset her lifelong trend of being late for everything ever. It’ll be her luck, she’ll probably go into labor in the middle of Christmas dinner or at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve.

Eventually she does fall asleep, hands cradling her belly. She’s blissfully unaware when the closet door pops out of the jamb with a pained squeak and creaks ajar, almost as though it had been forced open from the inside.

Chapter Text

It’s Sunday morning and Alec is drinking tea and browsing the paper while his eldest daughter reads the comics and his wife cooks the three of them breakfast. This domestic and mundane scene, like something plucked from a Norman Rockwell painting, feels blissfully surreal. He wishes he could bottle up the warm and fuzzy feeling that is spilling out of his heart right now and save it for a day when he’s more scruffy and salty and sad. Knowing that this is now his everyday hasn’t quite sunk in yet and he’s afraid to let himself get too comfortable back in the role of family man for fear it will all be yanked out from underneath him again. Admittedly, what had happened between him and Tess could’ve been spotted from a mile away by even a novice detective, but somehow it had still managed to catch him completely off guard. He remembers how the discovery of her infidelity had ripped the air right out of his lungs as forcefully as if he’d been suckerpunched. For once though, thinking about the way it had ended doesn’t sting like salt in an open wound. Loving Rose and being loved in return has been a salve to his soul.

It’s Sunday morning of Daisy’s first weekend living with him and Rose and he almost can’t believe how perfect everything is going. Daisy is across from him at the table, bent over the comics page with a studious expression on her face, her mobile temporarily forgotten while she loses herself in the antics of Dennis the Menace. It’s hard to believe that she’s fifteen and not five anymore; she’s grown up so much in the time he and Tess have been separated and now she’s stuck in that limbo between being a girl and becoming a woman. He might be a bit more fussed about that last part, but Rose is puttering around the kitchen behind them, humming show tunes to herself while she flips French toast, makes a fresh pot of tea, and looks painfully gorgeous doing it. Daisy couldn’t have a kinder, more intelligent, or compassionate woman as a role model and he desperately hopes that together he and Rose can maybe undo some of the damage he’s sure his toxic relationship with Tess may have done to his teenage daughter. He can only be thankful that they split before the arguments got really nasty-the most bitter of their rows have been post-divorce and he’s thankful Daisy wasn’t around to witness the majority of them and see for herself just how cruel and unkind her parents were capable of being to each other.

Rose plunks two slices of French toast on a plate in front of him, a strip of bacon and two banana slices arranged on top of it to look like a smiley face. He feigns a yawn to cover his mouth and hide the grin he can’t stop from spreading across his face. Admitting how charmed he is by her little domestic overtures would ruin the image he’s carefully cultivated of himself as a curmudgeon.

“No bacon for me, thanks,” Daisy says, glancing up from the comics. “Meat is murder.”

He groans. “Bloody hell, she’s quoting the Smiths at me now. Who gave this kid permission to grow up?”

“More bacon for me then,” Rose replies, snatching the breakfast meat off of Daisy’s plate and placing it on her own. Carefully, she maneuvers onto the chair next to him and props her feet up on the empty chair across the table. “Alec, it’s freezing in here. You mind turning the fan down?”

“Fanths nost-” he swallows a mouthful of French toast. “Fan’s not on.”

Rose looks up at the ceiling and frowns. “So it isn’t. Weird. You’d never know we were in the middle of a heatwave right now, it’s downright frigid in here.”

“Good,” he says, swallowing his French toast. “That means we’re saving money on our energy bill. Children are expensive. Anyway, didn’t the realtor say something about temperature optimization foam in the walls or some other such nonsense?”

“Yeah...maybe. I thought the house was too old for that, though,” she says, sounding unconvinced. A shiver shakes her shoulders and she rubs her hands up and down arms that are covered in goosebumps.

“Don’t worry, I’ll warm you up,” he teases, wrapping his arm around her shoulders.

Daisy drops her fork, a disgusted look on her face. “Gross, dad. Can we keep the PDAs to a bare minimum? Please and thank you,” she says, but the corner of her mouth is almost tugging into a smile.

“Geeze, you’d think I was the kid and she was the parent,” he says, rustling his paper and rolling his eyes. He’d almost forgotten what teenage girls are like. “Also, it’s not public if we’re at home.”

“Toh-may-toh, toh-mah-toh, dad. Anyway, Rose is a much better cook than mum,” Daisy replies, spearing a banana slice with her fork. “I think you should keep her.”

Under the table, he grabs Rose’s hand and gives it a squeeze. She squeezes back, her fingers tickling the inside of his wrist in a familiar and intimate fashion. “I’m glad she gets your stamp of approval, Daze.”

“So have I sufficiently buttered you up enough to ask if the neighbor can sleepover then?” Daisy asks casually. “After all, it’s the last week before school starts and it’d be nice if I could make some friends before hand.”

He tents his fingers. “Ah, there it is. I should’ve known better than to think my teenage daughter was being complimentary just for the sake of it. The house is still a bit of a mess with all the unpacking, but I suppose I don’t mind you having a potential friend over as long as Rose doesn’t, either.”

“Which neighbor?” Rose asks, the pitch of her voice raising ever so subtly, belying her nervousness.

“The girl who lives a few doors down. Chloe? I met her when I was walking into town the other day,” Daisy replies, oblivious to the way both he and Rose tensed as soon as she said the eldest Latimer girl’s name. “Would it be okay?”

Rose looks up at him and tilts her eyebrow, almost as though she’s silently asking his permission. “As long as your dad doesn’t mind, I guess it’s fine with me. Besides, I spent enough hours decorating that bedroom, be nice if you could show it off to somebody.”

“Dad?’ Daisy asks hopefully. “Is it alright?”

“Suppose,” he mumbles. Should he tell Daisy the truth about Danny Latimer now, before Chloe realizes whose daughter she is and decides to tell her own version of the truth? He’d like to believe Daisy would be immune to the negative things other people might say about him, but experience has taught otherwise. He doesn’t have a chance to decide either way though because just then the doorbell chimes and the kettle begins to whistle shrilling. He jumps to his feet, a little more sudden than entirely necessary. “I’ll get the door.”

He walks down the hallway to the foyer, slightly baffled. It’s a Sunday morning and nobody knows they live here yet. Or do they? It’s a small town, could word have traveled that fast? The frosted glass facade of the front door obscures the person standing on the other side, but it looks vaguely Miller shaped. Cautiously, he opens the door to reveal his former partner standing on the other side.

“Hello,” she says, awkwardly shoving a pineapple into his hands. “Don’t look so happy to see me.”

“What are you doing here? What’s the bloody fruit for?” he asks, mystified.

“It’s a pineapple, Hardy. They’re an international symbol of welcome. Brought it as a housewarming gift,” she says, rolling her eyes as she steps passed him. “And Rose invited me over, for tea and French toast.”

“Why is it that every time you invade my personal space you bring produce?” he asks, trailing behind her. “I don’t think even I could manage to choke on pineapple seeds.”

“Nah,” she answers, flapping her hand dismissively. “But you could shove the whole thing up your arse, if it pleases you.”

“Remind me why I’m friends with you again?” he asks, only half-serious.

Miller smiles. “Because no one else will tolerate you and I’m the only one you’ve got.”

“Ouch,” he says, feigning offense. “In front of my wife and daughter, Miller? Really?”

“Aww dad, your friends are almost as salty as you are. That must be nice for you,” Daisy says seriously.

And just like that, his Norman Rockwell fantasy is shattered and he comes crashing back to real life. It’s almost comforting even if it is a bit insulting. This at least feels like familiar territory to him, the sarcastic jabs and back-and-forth banter. Before he can even begin to formulate a response to Daisy’s subtle teasing, the doorbell rings again. He seems to be the only who hears it though, as Daisy dives back into her comics and Rose begins slicing Miller’s ridiculous pineapple while the two women chat animatedly at each other..

Well, as Miller has so graciously pointed out, she’s his only friend. So who in the bloody hell could be at hs door now on a Sunday morning? Mormons? Do they even have Mormons in Broadchurch?

“This place is like bloody Glassboro Central today,” he mumbles to no one in particular.

When he opens the door, Rose’s former roommate and a tall man with a square cut jaw and steely eyes are standing on the other side and he feels his blood pressure raise slightly. Miller is one thing, but now Rose is inviting friends from out of town without asking him? He knows it’s probably selfish, but he’d been hoping to enjoy at least this weekend alone with his newly blended family, before he loses Daisy to the excitement of a new school year and is dealing with not one, but two, newborns.

“Damn, I was hoping Rose would answer the door so I could be all ‘Surprise, bitch!’” Jake says. “Hope you don’t mind we just decided to drop in. How are ya, Hardy?”

“Annoyed,” he answers dryly. “People keep showing up to my domicile uninvited.”

“Don’t worry handsome, I can make a martini that’ll make you forgive anything,” Jake’s friend says, extending his hand. “Jack Harkness. Pleasure to finally meet you, I’ve heard a lot about you.”

He frowns, but shakes the other man’s hand. The American accent had caught him off guard. He doesn’t imagine Jake has had many nice things to say about him since he stole away with his best friend and flatmate, but who knows? “Alec Hardy, but I’m guessing you already knew that. As for martinis, it’s a Sunday morning. I don’t really drink, but when I do it’s scotch on the rocks like nature intended. Did my wife actually invite you reprobates or did you just decide to show up on your own accord?”

Jack chuckles, delighted. “You weren’t kidding. He really is like if an extra salty Ron Swanson were a Scottish cop. I like him.”

“I am right here, you know, I can hear you,” he grumbles, opening the door wider so the two men can step inside. “And as my wife, daughter, and ex-partner are here, I’ll ask you to keep the gratuitous comparisons to American comedy characters at a bare minimum. They don’t need any fresh material to mock me with, trust me.”

“Aww, you’re no fun,” Jake says, patting his bicep sympathetically as he walks through the open door. He drops his suitcase unceremoniously inside the entrance and he and Jack walk down the hall together like they live here.

Over the sound of Rose’s startled shriek, Alec can just barely hear Jake smugly say, “Surprise, bitch.”

And there goes his introvert family man’s Lazy Sunday, right out the window.

* * * * *

“You look annoyed,” Rose says softly, leaning on her elbows next to him at the kitchen counter as they look over take away menus for the only three places in Broadchurch that deliver. The day had slipped away fast while Rose caught up with her friends. Miller had left hours ago to pick up her kids from her sister’s and Chloe Latimer had shown up a few minutes ago. No one has said anything about the elephant in the room yet, but the tension is palpable.

“Why would I be annoyed?” he asks, rifling menu pages mindlessly. “I’ve just got our new house full of strangers and I have to go back to work tomorrow, so maybe I’m a little anxious. I guess we should probably get pizza, since so there’s of many of us.”

“It’s not like I planned this, Alec. Jake and Jack just showed up, I wouldn’t dream of inviting them without asking you first. But...it is really nice to see a friend from back home, especially since I haven’t been able to go back in forever with everything that’s been going on,” she says, her tone soft and measured. “And if we get pizza, you’ll need to order a salad. The doctor told you to limit your intake of greasy foods.”

“Yeah, I don’t think the pizza is the thing that’s gonna end up killing me in this scenario,” he replies dryly. “Daisy apparently won’t eat meat now, so it’ll have to be plain or veggie, probably. And look, I never said I was mad at you because your friends showed up. I’m just stressed, we both are. We’re hardly prepared for guests.”

“I didn’t even think Jake had the address,” she confesses. “I didn’t think to ask how he got it, I was just so happy to see him. Probably from my mother though, come to think of it.”

“If your mother just shows up here next, so help me god…” he says. The thought alone makes the back of his neck break out in a cold sweat. Even though Rose has patched things up with her mum, she still strikes an intimidating figure.

Rose laughs. “Jackie’s not spontaneous like that. If she’s going to go through the trouble of traveling more than an hour outside of London, she’s definitely going to call to make sure you’ll be around to inconvenience first. But I expect she’ll want to come visit soon, she’s been dropping hints for a couple weeks now.”

“Just give me seventy-two hours notice,” he says, ducking when she tries to playfully smack him. Some of the weird lingering tension that had been there a few minutes ago seems to melt away. Still, Rose seems pensive. Something unspoken is on her mind. He thinks she’s about to speak when Jake ruins the moment by poking into the kitchen.

“Ugh, have you not even ordered dinner yet?” he asks with theatrical ire. “Worst Airbnb ever.”

“Shut up,” Rose says without pause, chucking a balled-up takeaway menu at him. The corner of her lip tilts up slightly .“You and your boyfriend don’t have to stay here, you know. There’s the Traders in town if you prefer classier accommodations.”

“You couldn’t even say that with a straight face,” Hardy chuckles. The Traders had served its purpose when they’d needed it, but he certainly doesn’t miss it and neither does she, it seems. After hours of listening to her and Jake chat and feeling like an outsider, it feels good to share an inside joke with her.

“What, and miss an opportunity to sleep on an inflatable pool raft on your guest room floor? Never,” Jake replies with a smile. “Besides, we haven’t had a sleepover in forever. It’ll be like we’re kids again. Now all we need is Dream Phone or Mall Madness and we’ll be set.”

Lightning forks across the twilight sky then, illuminating the landscape outside the windows and giving a perfect view of the cliffs and beach beyond the back garden. A moment later thunder rumbles, making the glasses clink together in the cabinet like chattering teeth. The first wet splotches of rain begin pelting against the windows, loud as hail. It’s already raining so hard that everything outside looks blurry and out of focus.

“That was close,” Rose remarks nervously, pulling the curtains closed. She looks over her shoulder at Jake. “You coulda left the shitty weather back in London, y’know. I’m not that kind of homesick.”

“It’s just a summer storm, it’ll pass quickly,” he reassures her. Thunder rumbles loudly, almost drowning out the muffled sound of his mobile ringing from his pocket. He just barely manages to fumble the device out of his pocket and answer it before it can go to voicemail. “Hello?”

“Alec, I’m glad I managed to reach you. I know you weren’t scheduled to come back until tomorrow morning, but we’ve got a bit of a situation down here and I could use your help managing it,” the chief inspector says tersely.

“What kind of a situation?” he asks, catching Rose’s eye from across the room. She looks just about as anxious as he’s currently feeling, standing next to the windows with her arms wrapped tightly around herself.

“You’ll forgive me for being cryptic, but I’d prefer not to discuss it over the phone. I need you to get here soon though, before the roads start to flood. I wouldn’t ask you if it weren’t important,” she replies.

“Sounds like you aren’t really giving me a choice,” he answers, gritting his teeth.

“Just get here, Hardy,” she demands, disconnecting the call.

“Bollocks,” he mutters under his breath, jamming his mobile back into his pocket a little more aggressively than necessary. Just what he wants to be doing in the middle of a monsoon, driving to work in Rose’s tin can of a car for reasons unknown.

“Is everything alright?” Rose asks, hovering anxiously by his side.

He struggles to pull his raincoat on and growls in frustration. “No. I mean, I don’t know. I don’t think so. That was my boss, she wants me down at the station for some sort of emergency but she wouldn’t tell me what.”

“RIght now?” Rose asks incredulously. “Isn’t there someone else who can go?”

“Apparently not,” he grumbles. “I’m sorry. Just order food and catch up with your friends, it’ll be fine.”

She trails behind him to the door, unconvinced. “I don’t like the thought of you driving in this.”

“I’m not so keen on it myself, but the chief inspector wouldn’t call me on my day off for no reason. I’m sure it’s important,” he says, taking her by the shoulders. He pecks her forehead affectionately before pressing a lingering kiss against her lips. “Hold down the fort for me, okay? Don’t let the girls give you too much trouble.”

“It’s not Daisy and Chloe I’m worried about,” she says with a chuckle that sounds forced.

“I’ll try not to be long,” he promises. Steeling himself, he pulls his hood up over his head and sprints towards the car, careful to avoid the puddles of muddy water forming on the crushed shell drive. His socks and shoes are soaked by the time he manages to wrangle the door open and slide into the driver’s seat with a relieved gasp. Adjusting the mirrors as he drives away, It strikes him then just how much the lit windows of the second floor, the blinds halfway drawn, look like eyes and the open doorway, Rose leaning inside of it, resembles a gaping mouth. Even after she steps inside and shuts the door, the house still looks like a sleepy, hungry beast, finally rising after a long hibernation. The general creepiness of the sudden storm and Rose’s anxiety must be rubbing off on him.

“You’re losing it, Hardy,” he says out loud, shaking his head. Eyes focused now on the road ahead of him, he doesn’t notice the way the shadows shift on the house behind him.