Ellie sometimes worked on the nights Alec didn't. They had worked through their odd shifts together for the past few months and had set up a sort-of system that left their respective families running smoothly—or more smoothly than had been tried before. On those nights she came in the front door to general mayhem and disaster: Fred's toys strewn everywhere, Tom and Daisy seated in front of the telly playing fifa, and Alec generally dozing off on the couch. She didn't mind most nights when that happened. It was a relief hearing the house noisy and creaking like it had before her life had fallen apart; it brought her some semblance of normalcy.
Tonight, however, she slipped through the door to find that there was no mess of toys on the floor, no Fred sleepily babbling to himself, no Tom and Daisy shouting their way through their game, and no Alec seated on the couch. The lights were all off save the kitchen's, from which she heard the clanking of pans and utensils. Almost concerned she removed her shoes and shrugged off her coat.
"But wouldn't be that be too much vanilla? If it's real?" Daisy's voice put her at ease as she approached. Silently Ellie reached the doorway of the kitchen and found that Alec's daughter was seated on the edge of her kitchen chair in the corner watching her father.
"No." Alec himself was standing at the counter nearest the sink, mixing something in one of Ellie's silver mixing bowls that she hadn't seen in months. He was focused entirely on his task (whatever that was) and paid no mind to the fact that Ellie was home.
To Ellie's surprise she came to realize that there was music playing in the background—and not just any music. Classical. Cello and piano, harmonizing together. She had rarely listened to such music herself but tonight for some reason she found the song beautiful.
"What's all this, then?" She was tired (it had been a difficult case to wrap up) but it always buoyed her spirits when coming home to her odd ragtag family.
Daisy turned to her with her wide sunny smile. "Dad's trying to poison us tonight."
"Oi," Alec protested, twisting slightly to glare at his daughter. His arms, Ellie noticed, was speckled brown. Curious she stepped closer and looked over his elbow. "I've made these plenty of times before and you haven't died yet."
"Yeah, but that was years ago," Daisy protested with a smirk. "In your old age you may have mixed up the recipe."
"Just for that you're not getting any. You'll have to watch us all die from them."
Alec's sometimes downright black sense of humor was well-known in this household. Ellie rolled her eyes. "Brownies, Hardy? Really?"
"Why not?" he countered.
Baffled by the out-of-character actions of the man she knew so well she turned to Daisy, who sat with one elbow locked over the top of her chair. "I bought Dad a CD today," the girl explained; her smirk had not lessened. "He came here and started listening to it and now here we are."
"Making brownies." Ellie's tone still conveyed her confusion but she chose to leave it be for now. As long as they didn't turn out completely inedible she wouldn't ever turn down chocolate. Which reminded her… "Why do you have the cocoa powder out?" A pause. She frowned as she lifted it up. "When did I even buy cocoa powder?"
"Proper brownies are made from scratch, Miller. That bagged shite you buy from the store is just that: shite." He was back to concentrating on his job, mixing in a cup of flour to the mix. The song in the background changed in pitch, picking up in pace. Ellie frowned again as her ears picked up a tune that sounded vaguely familiar.
"Wait, I know this song. Where have I heard it?"
"Probably on the radio," Daisy replied. "It's 'Secrets' by OneRepublic. This is The Piano Guys version of it, they like to mesh up songs and add their own twists to them." The case of the said CD scraped lightly against the table as her long fingers dragged it closer so she could read the back of it. "Um… ah, yeah, they call it 'Beethoven's 5 Secrets'." She tilted her head as she listened to the swell of the full orchestra in the song. "It's cool, I guess."
From Daisy that meant the song was beautiful. Ellie couldn't help her smile and stealing a quick glance at Alec she saw his own eyes were soft hearing his daughter's admission. She nudged him in the ribs with her elbow, a wide grin pulling at her mouth.
"Never would've pegged you down for a classical kind of guy."
In the dim lighting it was hard to see the flush of red that started to creep up his neck but she knew him well enough now to see the change. "Good to know I can still surprise you, then."
"I was always hearing classical music growing up," Daisy commented idly, playing now on her phone. "I always thought it was Mum who decided to play it but she threw all of the CDs out after…" She stumbled to a halt, horror flashing over her face as she looked up. "Oh, God, Dad, I didn't mean to say that," she groaned, her own skin flushing as she realized the potential hurt her words could cause.
It did hurt him, Ellie could see that, but Alec had never allowed his hurt to affect his daughter. "It's fine, darlin'," he assured her, and his voice was even enough to mask the damage done by those words. He glanced over at Daisy with that smile he gave only her, a brief quick flash of white before he went back to finishing up with the batter. "They were just CDs, after all. You've helped me start my new collection."
Daisy's expression calmed a bit. Her fingers unclenched from her phone. "Soppy again, Dad," she informed him with learned teenage disdain covering up her own guilty feelings.
There was a story behind those lost CDs, one it seemed that Daisy knew some extent of, but the set of Alec's mouth told Ellie it was better for her not to ask about them yet. Instead, she briefly slipped her arm around his slender waist and murmured she was going to take a shower and went on her way upstairs.
Fred was asleep in his bed already; Tom, sitting in his room with his computer in his lap, explained to her that the CD that Alec had started to listen to had played a piano/cello instrumental of 'Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star' and the youngest Miller had fallen asleep right there amidst his toys on the living room. Ellie made a mental note to try and play that song every night from then on.
Her shower, while quick, was gloriously refreshing and served to soothe the frayed nerves that had sprung up during the course of her day. When she made her way into her bedroom, she found Alec waiting for her on the bed clearly waiting for her.
"Shouldn't you be waiting on your brownies?"
He shook his head. "Daisy volunteered to take them out when they were ready."
She could smell them cooking already and they were already making her mouth water. She could feel his eyes on her as she changed into her pajamas; she knew that expression well enough she could see the sharp light in his eyes as he looked her over.
Joe had never looked at her with the same hunger that Alec did. He had never loved her with the same intensity.
She felt more than heard him stand and walk up behind her; mere seconds later he was wrapping his arms around her middle and pulling her close, and she hummed in satisfaction as she felt his lips at her neck, the scruff of his beard tickling the crook of her neck. "Hope the kids weren't too much trouble today."
"Never are," he assured her with just an edge of that husky growl she had quickly learned to appreciate. His touch was steadily growing lower and lower and she smiled to herself.
"You're going to embarrass your daughter if she ever walks in on us doing this, Hardy."
"She'll learn to knock before entering, then." His tone was dismissive. She saw that he still had speckles of batter on his arms that he had missed wiping off and felt a thrill deep in her stomach wondering what she could do to clean the rest of it up off him.
Damn it, she couldn't let them do anything yet. The kids weren't all in bed yet. "What about Tom?" she managed to ask.
His ministrations paused as he realized where she was getting at. By the slight intake of breath she heard at her ear she knew he saw where she was coming from even if it was frustrating and she mildly disappointed when he drew back slightly. She turned instead to face him. "After brownies?" she asked hopefully.
"Aye." It was going to have to do. They settled for laying on the covers of the bed in their usual positions with Ellie braced against the headboard and Alec's head in her lap as she stroked his hair. She could hear the strains of classical music floating up from downstairs, the deep mournful rumble of a cello oddly spiritful in the calm atmosphere of the household.
"What classical artists do you like, Alec?" she asked suddenly. The use of his name let him know the seriousness of the question.
He was quiet for a moment. "Depends. My mum always listened to Bach. Mozart. I think I liked Beethoven the best, though. Loads of others, I can't remember them all. I had all those mixed tapes, with a lot of different artists on them."
"And what's the correlation with baking brownies?"
She saw a flash of a small grin on his face, softened with remembrance. "I was always watching Mum bake while she listened to classical. She said that what we love can be incorporated into everything we do. She'd always ask me if I could taste her love for her music in her food. I'd always tell her I could." He was quiet for a long moment, thinking, then finally explained why Daisy's words had hurt him so much earlier. "I'd bake Tess anything she wanted while listening to that music. I never told her why and she never asked."
Love. Simple, pure love. Ellie marveled again at the simplicity of some signs of it in life. It was, after all, the simple small things that mattered the most.
She was sure that she was going to hear that CD played more often and she found she didn't really mind that at all.