A/N: This was written before episode 6 so spoilers up to and including episode 5 and a bit of swearing. Not entirely sure when or how it happened but this brotp are getting shippy and I'm not sure how to stop it.
Disclaimer: I own nothing but dreams of a spin-off based on the adventures of Hardy and Fred.
The too-familiar notes scribbled over a copy of Ashworth's original statement on the page in front of him are blurring together. Distantly, Hardy tries to remember when he wrote them. Was it before he left Sandbrook? Before the trial? Before his wife told him the truth about the pendant? Before the lake?
Each incident, as painful as the last, has left its mark on his memory and will likely be there for as long as he lives. Hardy knows that for certain. What isn't certain is for how long that will be.
"We're out of milk," Miller announces from his kitchen and he wonders when exactly it became their milk. "Gonna pop out and get more. Maybe some bread. Anything else you can think of?"
His tired eyes slide off the page and onto the blur of orange in front of him. Unlike him, coffee isn't off-limits for Miller and she's clearly had one too many judging by the way her hands are checking and rechecking her zip.
A shake of his head and she's gathering her bag from by the front door. There's probably loads of things he needs from the shop but he barely pays attention anymore.
"You'll be all right with Fred, won't you?" Miller asks with one foot outside.
"Sure? I'll only be ten minutes?"
He's gone back to pouring over the statements again. "Get the milk, Miller."
"I can take him if-"
He hears her muttering under her breath as she bends to kiss her son before she goes. It seems sometimes she forgets that he's been through this. It might have been a while ago, but he's found its the sort of thing that stays with you.
"You going to behave, Miller?" he calls, glancing up to see the toddler has abandoned his toys and is staring out of the door his mother just left through.
Hardy is out of his chair and on the floor as fast as his failing body will allow. Sitting between Fred and the door, he picks up a blue square and waves it in front of his face.
Thankfully, Fred's watery eyes land on the block and he's reaching for it rather than crying. Hardy passes it to him with a sigh.
His mother apparently forgotten in favour of brightly coloured plastic, Fred begins trying to fit the square piece into the circular hole in the box sat between his chubby legs. Hardy watches as the boy's insistence becomes impatience and the square is hurled across the room.
"If it's any consolation, I've found putting the right shaped blocks into matching holes hasn't been a frequent challenge in adulthood," Hardy tells him, passing him the red circle. "Try that one."
Fred takes the circle and attempts to squeeze it through the triangular hole.
"You really are your mother's son."
It takes several minutes and three demonstrations, but eventually the circle piece is safely in the box. Rather than celebrate what was an arduous victory for Hardy, Fred shoves the triangle piece into his mouth.
"Ah, ah, no, Miller," Hardy chastises him, pulling the block away and grimacing when he gets spit on his hand. "Play nicely."
Fred scowls at him.
Trying to convince Fred to carry on with the challenge, Hardy finds that he misses doing this. Unlike adults, toddlers are predictable and safe. They'll draw on the walls, but they won't hurt you. They'll get carried away with tantrums but they won't leave you for someone else. They'll cry but it'll always be for you.
He's too lost in his thoughts when he notices Fred is now crawling into his lap to give him the triangle. When he takes it, Fred laughs and claps like that had been the point all along.
In ten years, he'll be the same age Daisy was when she stopped taking his calls. How did he fuck up so badly in such a short space of time?
"They only had red top," comes a voice from the door. "Probably for the best though, eh? Oh, and Kit Kats were on offer so I got a pack."
Miller stops wittering on when she sees her son babbling in his arms and Hardy suddenly feels self-conscious. Despite his experience, he's hardly a choice babysitter. Knowing his luck, he'll be holding him wrong or teaching bad habits and why did he ever agree to have the bloody kid in his house in the first place if it was going cause so much hassle?
"He likes you," Miller nods. Her eyes are all round and her mouth pinched. She won't say anything, and neither will he, but it's obvious she's thinking of the man who should be playing with her son.
"Someone has to," Hardy replies.
"I suppose until he's talking he won't fully understand what a prick you can be."
He exhales something that's almost a laugh and is grateful when Miller moves to the kitchen to put the food away. Hardy knows she's only left the room to cover how her solid mask is slipping. If he was any sort of friend he'd try and comfort her, but seeing her sad is so wrong and he wouldn't know what to say anyway. So he sits on his living room floor, letting her son play with his tie and hopes he's somehow giving Miller the support she needs just by being in the next room. He'd not really been exaggerating to Fred; adulthood was far more complicated than simply being given the right tools to use in the right situations.
Sometimes situations looked clear but were black holes in disguise.
Sometimes entire situations were so dark that nothing you could say or do could help but doing nothing would still make it worse.
And, sometimes, Hardy thinks, as Miller takes her son back and smiles at him as though everything is as it was twelve months ago, situations are grey and unknowable. Like now. The trial continues to rip the town apart, Sandbrook is hanging over his head once more and he could easily be dead by the end of the week, but right now Ellie Miller is smiling again and, for the moment, the rest doesn't seem as important.
Thanks for reading!