Author's Notes: This is an AU story set just after the events of season 1. I am currently watching and immensely enjoying season 2 on BBC America, but we're only on episode 2 and my version of events will probably vary wildly from the actual show.
There isn't much you need to know before reading this, but if you haven't finished the first season, DO NOT read this story. It will spoil the killer. I know the show has been out for nearly two years but I don't want to ruin the end for anyone because the season was so brilliantly and carefully constructed.
Also, though I have an English mother and a Scottish grandfather, I grew up in America. I may get the slang, speech patterns or titles wrong. Please don't hesitate to correct me (I'd welcome it!) and please excuse any mistakes.
THANK YOU FOR READING! I'd very much enjoy any feedback left on this story, but I appreciate every single reader whether you review or not. I very much hope you enjoy it!
Ellie becomes aware, very slowly, that Hardy is always watching her.
At first she didn't notice – couldn't notice – because her life has become the sort of nightmare she never could have imagined before. The only thing she's able to focus on, and even this is shamefully difficult, is being a mother. Through those first days she somehow marshals enough energy to care for her boys and that is nearly more than she can handle. She keeps hearing Beth echoing her own accusation back at her: "How could you not know?" She agonizes over that very question through every painful hour. Through all of it, Alec Hardy is a presence in her peripheral, and while there's comfort in that, she can't focus on him. She simply can't focus on anything.
But as the days stretch past that first week (and she had been doubting seriously if they'd ever get through that first awful, brutal week), she starts to notice that Hardy is lingering there, just on the outskirts. Not just lingering, either, but staring with those big, brown sow's eyes.
He's there when she moves to the outskirts of town. He doesn't say much. He simply helps her gather what she and the boys need and take it to the new flat. He helps her settle in, and sometimes he's so quiet that she forgets he's even there. He leaves just as quietly, just: "See you later, Miller," and a quick kiss on the cheek that she had not expected from him. It's a dry kiss, over so quickly and so uncharacteristic of the former DI that she decides she must have imagined it.
More days pass, and he does see her later. He always appears whenever she has to go into town (and she avoids going into town; too many gazes, most curious and some downright hostile). He makes the sort of awkward small talk that she knows is torture for him, but he shows genuine interest in Tom and Fred. She needs these little reminders that he's a parent, too. Sometimes he's so distant that it's hard to remember he has connections outside of his former casework.
Sometimes, now that the wider world is forcing its way back into her life, Ellie catches him staring at her. There is something indecipherable in that gaze of his. It's not pity, no trace of that, and while sympathy and grief are both there, it's neither of those things either. It's as if he's scrutinizing her, taking stock of all the things she can't say even to him. She has no idea what to make of it. Rather than dealing with the implications, she lets it make her angry because that's the easiest thing.
"Stop staring at me all the time," she snaps at him, quietly because they're in the middle of getting groceries and there are other people about. Her tone has no less bite to it, even if she can't yell at him the way she'd like to. "People don't stare like that, you know. It's rude."
Hardy blinks at her as if she's speaking another language. Then he lifts his shoulders in a small shrug and drags his eyes away as though the boxes of cereal on the shelf had become interesting. He doesn't apologize or explain, and she huffs a little.
It takes her a moment to realize that she feels a tiny bit better. For that one moment, things were as they had always been between them: him acting like a bit of an alien, and her calling him out on it. There was no false kindness here. But they'd always been direct with one another. He'd always done her the curtesy of that, of never bumbling through empty platitudes in lieu of something meaningful to say.
He leaves her at the end of the high street, his eyes back on her as she climbs into the car she's called to take her home. He leans down, peering at her face.
"Say hi to the boys for me," he tells her. She nods, her fingers twisting the handles of the plastic grocery bags.
"You should come 'round for dinner," she says, startling them both. He considers for a long, silent moment. Then he nods.
She wags a finger at him. "You've got to promise not to stare or the invitation's revoked," she tells him, stern as a schoolteacher, and he rewards her with a low, rumbling laugh.
"Off you go then, Miller," he says, one of those rare smiles still tugging the corner of his lips, and he shuts the door. The car drives away and she glances back once. He is standing there and she's far enough away now that she can't see if he's watching the car, but she knows he is.
Strange man. Her reluctant godsend, but still a strange man.
His presence at her dinner table is becoming a weekly habit. He brings news from town, but he carefully avoids speaking about the Latimers. He asks Tom about his new school and even helps with his geography homework, displaying an interest in the outer world that Ellie hadn't guessed at.
He also has decent taste in wine and isn't even a bad cook, she discovers, as he usually brings around wine or a side dish when he joins them.
She doesn't want to admit that she sleeps easier on the nights when he's been by, but she does.
He doesn't quit studying her, but she's growing used to it now.
Once, she catches him speaking to Tom on the back porch after dinner. She hadn't meant to eavesdrop, only they'd both disappeared and she'd been curious. She hears them before she sees them, but when Tom asks about his father, she freezes for an instant. Then she moves silently to the back door.
"Do you think Dad's sorry…about Danny, I mean?" Tom asks, his voice a fragile thing.
Hardy's answer is gruff but gentle. "I'm certain he is, Tom."
Tom is quiet for a long moment, considering. Then, breaking Ellie's heart: "I miss him."
"Of course you do. You're right to." Hardy has leveled a very serious gaze at her son, and Ellie can see the compassion there too. "He's been a good father, and he loves you."
"I'm angry with him." Tom's head drops and he gazes at his shoelaces. "For what he did. For hurting Danny and for leaving us and for making mum cry all the time."
Hardy nods. His hand drops to Tom's shoulder. "I'm angry about that too, Tom. Very angry. But you have to take that anger and channel it into taking care of your mum and brother now. They'll be needing you. Your mum especially."
Tom looks up at him and Ellie realizes, quite suddenly, that Hardy has won her son over completely. He trusts this battered, tired man for the same reason that she does: his directness, his blasted nobility streak which costs him so much. She touches her mouth with her fingertips, feeling the tears well again.
"Come on then, she'll be wondering where we are, and – don't tell her this – but I'm a little afraid of your mum," Hardy says, standing and brushing off his pants. Tom gets to his feet as well, smiling at the older man like a co-conspirator.
"Too right," he says, and Ellie has to scramble away from the door to avoid being caught listening.
Later, as he's leaving, Hardy dips down to brush her cheek with his lips again, and this time she smiles at him. It feels a little strange: these days only Tom and Fred can coax one from her. But he gives her a small smile back and squeezes her hand before he goes. She thinks that maybe he understands.
She watches him walk down the lane, tall and lonely, and amends that thought: she knows he understands.
It's a shock when he shows up on her doorstep in the middle of the afternoon three days later. Tom's at school and Fred is down for a nap, so they're completely alone. It feels foreign to be alone with him, although she chides herself for being silly. Why should it feel strange? They'd been alone often enough before. But it had been a long while now, and in those days he didn't look at her the way he did now. She wasn't sure how he looked at her, but it was different.
She lets him in and he stands in her sitting room, clearly uncertain of what to do with his arms. He scratches at his thick scruff, then shoves both hands deep into his pockets. He looks downright boyish, even with his three-day-old beard, and suddenly Ellie is sure she isn't up to hearing whatever it is he's about to tell her. After all, the date for Joe's hearing is looming closer, and the small amount of recovery she's managed is slipping through her fingers at the thought of sitting in that courtroom and listening to her husband's sentencing.
"Out with it," she demands, keeping a wary distance. He looks at her and his eyes are large and penitent.
"Erm, well…" He is as reluctant to say it as she is to hear it. Her arms cross over her chest protectively.
"Hardy. Just tell me." Her voice is sharper than she means for it to be, but she's downright nervous now, and glad her hands are cupping her elbows because otherwise they'd be trembling.
"I'm leaving Broadchurch."
It's a blow. She rocks back with it, a physical reaction to the sudden burst of emotion in her chest.
He can't. He's the only person in the whole bloody town that will look her in the eye. Even Reverend Coats has trouble with that. She needs him, more than she knew until this exact moment. He can't leave her now.
He sees her panic and steps closer, invading her space and catching her arm to steady her.
"Ellie, I'm sorry. I know the timing is total shit," he says, and she can see that he desperately wants her to understand. Before he has an opportunity to explain, she shoves him away.
"Go, then!" Her voice is shrill but she can't seem to control it. "But I really wish you hadn't let Tom get so attached to you. Do you realize what this is going to do to him?" Do you realize what this is doing to me?
Hardy looks shaken now, and his hands lift toward her again, but she steps out of his reach. It isn't fair, she knows, to lean on him for comfort so heavily. But he'd simply always been there, always steadying her. He was her friend, the only friend she had left, and for him to leave her here in this town, all alone…it was the last straw. It might actually drive her mad.
"Eliie," he says again, his voice pleading. She's never quiet heard this tone from him before. "Please, listen to me. Let me explain."
Her shoulders fall. She won't meet his gaze. "No need, Hardy."
"No, there is a need. Look at me, please." She can see his feet shifting closer, small steps as though he's approaching an animal he doesn't want to spook.
"I can't deal with this right now, Hardy. I really can't." There's fire in her eyes as she looks up at him. She points to the door though he is fully aware of its location. "You should go now, before Tom gets home."
Hardy looks at her with those huge eyes, hoping for reprieve, a chance to tell her the rest of what he came here to, but there's no quarter in her gaze. She is deeply hurt and he can see it.
"Alright, alright. I'll go." He shuffles toward the front door, opens it…but he stops just as he's stepping out. He looks back at her and now he's the one looking hurt. "I'll call you to explain," he tells her, and then disappears.
The door latches shut. Then she cries.