A/N: Dear Readers – this is the final part for what has turned into the saga of Alec Hardy's life before he showed up in Broadchurch. It is a continuation of Part One & Two and it is highly recommended to have read those. This story takes us onto the final stretch, depicting the aftermath of the Sandbrook case and how Alec Hardy ends up coming to Broadchurch (and of course stealing Ellie Miller's job – knob!)

This story is dedicated to HAZELMIST who shares my issues with letting go of Alec... I will be eternally grateful for all your support in this past year. This is for you, darlin'. You're a star!

A Million Holes Poked In The Soul – Part Three

For all of the loved ones gone
Forever's not so long
And in your soul
They poked a million holes
But you never let them show
Come on its time to go

And you already know
Yet you already know
How this will end

Devotchka – "How It Ends"


June 2012

It had been over a month since Alec Hardy, possibly soon-to-be former Detective Inspector, had left Sandbrook to stay with his friend Duncan in Cardiff. Besides his doctor appointments, he didn't have many reasons to return. He was currently on leave, awaiting his Directorate of Professional Standards hearing that finally would take place this week, now that his health had improved. Duncan and Geena had made him participate in a cardiac rehab program, and although he would never admit it, he was feeling better. The number of arrhythmia episodes was decreasing, and it had been a week since he last had passed out.

Emily Abbott was pleased and Hardy was scared. Recovery had not been part of the plan. The other day, Duncan had asked if he'd put any thought into what his next steps might be. Hardy had sat there and blankly stared ahead. The concept of a next step was hard to wrap one's mind around when one was convinced that death was part of the equation. Duncan had gently suggested to find a place to live. Hardy's temper didn't deal well with that. After accusing Duncan of wanting to get rid of him, he had stormed out of the room, only to collapse in the hallway. When he had come to, Geena had sent an exasperated Duncan away. She then had sat down an equally exasperated Hardy and had talked some sense into him. In the end, they had agreed that he'd stay with them until the DPS hearing would bring clarity as to where his career was taking him.

A handful of times, Hardy had visited the house that Tess and Daisy still called their home. Reluctantly, he had collected his belongings, making sure not to bump into his soon-to-be ex-wife. Tess couldn't file for the divorce fast enough. She had beat him to it, mostly because he couldn't bring himself to go forward with it. He had left it all to Geena who had carefully indicated that Tess wasn't as reasonable as Geena hoped she'd be. Hardy didn't care about money or their shared assets. The only thing he cared about was Daisy. Geena had given him a bollocking and reminded him that he might need some financial security if he wasn't going to be able to hold down a job due to his heart condition. He had mumbled something about a pension, having no idea what that really meant. When she had mentioned child maintenance and that he might not have to pay much if he was medicalled out, he had lost it. How could she dare imply he wasn't going to help support his daughter? He wasn't having any of it, insisting on doing his part.

A week after Duncan's push for him to get back to a more regular life, Hardy found himself on a train to Sandbrook. His small bag contained most of his belongings, a wad of papers for the realtor, and the letter with the order to appear in front of the DPS committee.

His phone buzzed and jolted him out of his brooding thoughts. He squinted at the text message that was a reply to a question he had asked Daisy the day before. She agreed to meet him for lunch. Better late than never, he thought, consoling himself. It was a feeble attempt to ignore the fact that it had barely been a month since he'd left and his daughter was already pulling away from him.

Hardy sat in the corner of Mary's Tearoom and eyed the entrance anxiously. Daisy was running late and he feared she might not show up at all. He hadn't seen her in a few weeks now. Not a day went by when he didn't miss her though. He'd sent her messages, and they occasionally talked on the phone, but it wasn't the same.

The door flew open and Daisy barged in. She was laughing and waving goodbye to one of her friends outside. Hardy's face brightened up at the sight of his beautiful girl. She turned, and when she saw him, she smiled and bounced over. He stood and stole a quick hug from her before she wiggled out of his embrace.

"Oi, Dad! Too much. We are in public," she groused and plopped down on the chair opposite him.

Hardy grinned and trailed his tea cup with his fingers.

"So, how's school?" he began, waiting for her to scold him that he really should think of a better way to start a conversation with her. She fell for it, and Hardy hid his amusement while Daisy complained about his impossible social skills. When she noted his barely concealed smile, she stopped.

"Oh, look at you, you're trying to be funny," she exclaimed and whacked him on the arm. He shrugged with a mischievous glimmer in his eyes and sipped his tea. He peered over the rim of the cup, taking her in. She appeared older, but then he always thought that when he hadn't seen her in a while.

"Stop staring, Dad," she muttered and ducked her head behind the menu.

"Sorry," he sighed and dropped his gaze. His fingers found the sugar packets which didn't provide sufficient distraction from the anxiety within.

"Are you feeling better?" she asked shyly. Her wide eyes met his and he nodded. For once, it wasn't a lie. "You've got color in your face. Whatever Geena is feeding you, you seem to like it."

"Why would you say that?" he wondered. The gaunt face that greeted him every morning in the mirror was still a stranger to him.

"'Cause your cheeks have filled in and you don't look like a ghost any more," she stated with an air of indignation that she reserved for those moments when he was acting daft.

Emily had said the same when he had seen her that morning. She had the numbers to back-up her statement, showing that he had indeed gained some weight and that his heart function had improved, returning to near normal. His excitement over the good news had been subdued.

"When are you coming back?" Daisy wanted to know like every time they talked.

Up until now he'd been evasive, but today he couldn't avoid the topic any longer. Fine pearls of sweat pooled on his forehead, and the uncomfortably fast pace of his heart fueled the tension that was clenching up his stomach. He had an appointment with a realtor the next day to find a flat of his own. The DPS hearing was scheduled for later that week. From what Baxter had indicated, he'd had a good chance of staying on the force, especially as his health seemed to be improving. Baxter had joked about plan B, and Hardy had been ready to hang up the phone.

"Dad! Focus!" Daisy barked at him, exasperated with his easy distractibility.

"Sorry," he muttered, shaking off the desperate feeling of no way out that plagued him whenever someone brought up plan B.

"Erm… I might be moving into a flat soon." Her eyes widened, and he added hastily, "Here, in Sandbrook."

"Oh." She was less enthusiastic than he would have expected. She flicked a few crumbs off the table and chewed on her lower lip. She didn't look at him, when she asked, "So, no chance that you're really coming back?"

His heart stuttered. Leaning against the wall, he surreptitiously took in a few steadying breaths. He crossed his arms and his eyes drifted to the ceiling. What was he going to say to that? Tess had refused to consider a legal separation and had immediately aimed at a divorce.

"Daisy, I –" he broke off at a loss for the right words.

"Can I come live with you?" The hopeful spark in her eyes was more than Hardy could bear. He passed a hand over his stinging eyes, trying to buy himself some time to come up with a good explanation.

"It's not a good idea. I won't have a big enough place and –"

"You're not going to have a room for me there?" she cut him off, the hurt apparent in her voice and face.

Shit. Why did he have to fail so miserably in finding the right words for her to understand? Because you're a bloody liar, he answered his silent question.

"That's not what I meant."

She huffed and forcefully crushed a bigger crumb of some discarded pastry under the tip of her index finger.

Truth be told, he couldn't afford a bigger place that would have two bedrooms. At least not close enough to her school so that she could walk. His head hung low, and he wrung his clasped hands. He was a failure as a parent. He couldn't give his own child a place to live because he couldn't even drive her to school from the area where he might be able to wing a two bedroom flat. He hated what he had become.

"Mum thought you might stay with Duncan and wouldn't get your own place," Daisy revealed out of the blue when the silence had dragged on too long.

Hardy's eyes whipped up and fixed on her scowling face. "Why would she –" he broke off when it dawned on him what Tess might have been thinking. The same as he had – he wouldn't need one.

He sighed deeply and reached over the table to still Daisy's nervous hand that continued to chase the leftover pieces of something long gone by. "Darlin', I love you and I'm not abandoning you. I want to stay in your life."

"It doesn't look like that," she interjected angrily.

Hardy's jaw twitched. "It's been very complicated, Daisy," he continued unconvincingly. "I can't give you what you need right now. I can't make that home that your mother can provide. For many reasons. My life's a bit up in the air right now and until things settle I –"

"I don't give a fuck about any of this, Dad. All I want is my family back!" she shouted at him and ripped her hand away. Her face had reddened with the violent fury that was shaking her and him up. He didn't even think to chide her for the foul language. A flutter in his chest told him he should be taking his pills to withstand the onslaught of her grief and anger. He sneaked his hand into his pocket and fumbled two of them out of the blister pack. His fingers curled around them, concealing them in his lap.

"Why can't you and Mum talk to each other and figure things out?" she demanded. "Or maybe we could all live together in the same house. You could be friends, right?" Her tone rapidly deteriorated from angry to desperately pleading and her eyes were shining with unshed tears.

Hardy cupped his mouth, not only to place the bitter pills on his tongue, but also to curb his own emotions. He was about to gag down his medication, when she said,

"It's not like you guys are seeing someone else."

He choked and sputtered the tea he had been sipping to help wash down the chalky taste. Coughing violently, he croaked, "No."

It nearly took him down, but for the sake of his daughter, he held onto consciousness and life. When everything around him stopped blurring, his gaze focused on her frightened face.

"'M fine. Just swallowed the wrong way."

Her searching eyes narrowed, and Hardy had to put a lot of effort into convincing himself that she hadn't picked up on his slip. She didn't inquire further though, having something else on her mind.

"Why did you leave us, Dad?" she asked quietly.

"I didn't leave you, I left your mother," he blurted out harshly, before his addled brain could censor his comment.

Daisy's eyes grew big. "So it was you who decided to break it up," she whispered hoarsely.

Fuck. He'd messed up. Or maybe it was good that she thought he was to blame. After all that was the whole point of all of this; for Daisy and Tess to keep their relationship intact. Who gave a bloody shit about where he would fit in? Unfortunately his crummy heart did. He pressed the heels of his hands against his eyeballs to make the pain go away. It didn't work. His arms fell limply to his side. Tipping his head back, he opened his eyes.

Daisy was gone.

Hardy stared at the empty chair. His warring emotions were hidden behind that stoic mask that he'd learned to perfect in the past weeks. Then he got up slowly, feeling older than when he'd walked into Mary's Tearoom. He sneaked out before Mary could rope him into a conversation or try to feed him. It was raining, but Hardy didn't care. He was drowning anyway.

The key felt wrong in his hand. It was bigger than his old house keys. Reluctantly he slid the clunky piece of metal into his coat pocket, after locking the door to his new flat.

He moved in the day that he'd signed the papers. It was a small place, furnished as he didn't have anything of his own. By most standards it wasn't horrible. Sun fell through the kitchen window in the morning and in the afternoon into the small sitting area. There was a table with four chairs, a modern sofa opposite a TV, a sterile bedroom with a small double bed, and a squeaky clean bathroom. He'd saved on the garage as he wouldn't be needing one. It was close enough to the constabulary that he could walk if he should be so lucky to stay on the force.

He had been right in his assumption that he couldn't afford even a one bedroom flat in the desirable area around Daisy's school. He had tried, but when he took into account the issue of transportation to the police station, it became very clear that it wouldn't work. It had taken him a day to come to terms with that, brooding in his hotel room. He'd nearly been desperate enough to call Tess and beg her to reconsider the ridiculous amount of child maintenance payments she'd negotiated in exchange for fully shared parental responsibilities. He didn't though, clinging on to whatever sliver of self-respect he still had.

The next morning, he had called the realtor, and they had found something that was suitable. Half a day later, he forced a smile onto his face when the young spunky agent handed him a pen to sign the lease. A hearty handshake and an overly enthusiastic "You'll love this place" was all that separated Hardy from the immediate loneliness he felt when the door fell shut behind him.

He picked up his bag and took it to the bedroom. He put it down and zipped it open. As he had nothing better to do, he started putting his clothes away. When he reached the bottom of the bag, he froze. The purple unicorn smiled at him, mane fluffy and sticking up in all directions. Slowly, he lowered his tired body onto the bed. His fingers brushed over the soft toy. He quickly pressed it against his aching chest, taking in the scent that reminded him of laughter, warmth, and love. Then he hid it away. Not because he was ashamed to have a stuffed animal in his bedroom as a grown man, but because he couldn't bear the constant reminder of what he'd lost.

Baxter took him out to dinner the night before Hardy's DPS hearing, as always concerned about feeding his friend. They spent a quiet meal together, with mostly Baxter talking. He didn't mention a lot about his own encounter with the internal affairs officials, although he let on that he'd been reprimanded for his actions. Hardy's discomfort over the idea that he had gotten Baxter into trouble spoiled his meager appetite.

Baxter dropped him off, refusing to let him take a taxi.

"So, this is your new place then?" Baxter asked before Hardy could fold his lanky body out of the car.

"Aye." Hardy was as monosyllabic as he'd been the entire evening.

Baxter cocked his head. "And? How is it?"

"It's clean," Hardy stated drily.

"Seriously, Alec? It's clean? You can't come up with something better than that?"

"It's spotless?" Hardy smirked.

Baxter's eyebrow went up, but then he smiled. "I missed you, you bloody knob."

Hardy's ears heated up. "So did I," he admitted quietly. "Ed, can I ask you something?"

"No," Baxter replied, as solemn as one could be.

"What?" Hardy's head snapped around. His gaze came to rest on Baxter's contorted face. He was biting his lip in order not to burst out in laughter. His eyes gleamed with amusement.

Hardy groaned. He couldn't tell who was worse to endure – Baxter or Duncan.

Baxter chuckled briefly, but then turned serious. "What did you want to ask?"

"Do they know about the affair?" Hardy's voice was low.

Baxter remained silent for so long that Hardy thought he wasn't going to answer.

"Alec, you know I can't tell you anything until you've had your hearing," he sighed finally.

Hardy nodded and ran his hands down his face. "It's all right. Just thought I –" He stopped in the middle of the sentence when he realized that Baxter was climbing out of the car.

"What are you doing?" he asked puzzled.

"Walking you to your flat," Baxter replied with a broad grin when he held the passenger side door open.

Hardy rolled his eyes. "Don't get your hopes up. Not going to kiss you."

Baxter chortled and gently shoved Hardy towards the entrance of the building. Hardy was protesting that he didn't need to be chaperoned to his bed, but Baxter pretended not to hear him. He followed him faithfully up the stairs and inside the small flat.

"You're right," Baxter said after he had looked around. He swiped his finger over a shelf board. "It is spotless."

Shaking his head, Hardy leaned against the doorframe and crossed his arms.

"Ed, why are you here?" he said tiredly.

Baxter plopped on a chair and beckoned Hardy to take a seat next to him.

"Fairbanks is aware of the affair. As far as I can tell, he's the only one though. He was present when MacMillan talked to Tess and Thompson while you were in hospital. I really don't think the others have a clue. Not from the way they were asking questions," Baxter shared slowly.

Hardy frowned. "If Fairbanks knows, then why wouldn't he bring it up?" It didn't make sense to him.

He felt Baxter's gaze resting on him. "Because he also knows the other part of the story, Alec," he said softly.

Hardy's eyes widened. He'd often wondered what had been said between Baxter and MacMillan that had convinced his hardarse Chief to go along with his plan. It had never entered his thoughts that CS Fairbanks had been involved in the discussion as well. His shoulders dropped. If all the people who were deciding his fate knew what really had happened, how could Tess ever get away with any of it? And if she didn't keep her job, then part of this had been in vain.

"Ed, the affair was supposed to be kept quiet. How do we expect DPS to overlook this serious misconduct? It's already frowned upon, even without the dire consequences that this indiscretion had?" Hardy groaned.

Baxter turned in his seat to face Hardy. "Listen, Alec. You can't expect them to turn a blind eye to what happened. We are all in this together, and each of us made different mistakes. We fucked up, that's the harsh truth. This is not a soap opera where magically things get fixed or undone. We have to be accountable for our actions, that's part of our duty as police officers. You are one of the most dedicated people in the force that I've met, and I know you believe in this duty. I would bet that somewhere inside you, you're appalled at what Tess and Thompson did. That part in you needs to find peace, regardless of the very personal nature of this issue. They can't get away with it, not without at least some punishment for their actions." Baxter paused briefly, and Hardy seized the opportunity to speak up.

"I'm not protecting Tess," Hardy stated, desperation roughing up his Scottish accent.

"I know that. And MacMillan and Fairbanks are aware of that too. Unfortunately, in order to keep Daisy out of harm's way, Tess benefits where she really shouldn't. Some people have a problem with that. I have a problem with that," Baxter added with a sigh.

Hardy glared at his friend. "You didn't say anyth –"

"No, I didn't," Baxter cut Hardy off bitterly. "I stuck with the facts and what we agreed upon. I expect you to do the same. No lies, do you hear me?"

Baxter's tone was intimidating enough and Hardy nodded. "No lies, I promise."

He dragged his hands over his face. Moaning, he said, "I wish this was all over. I'm so done."

"You're taking care of yourself, aren't you?" There was a small tremble in Baxter's voice. Their eyes met. Baxter knew him too well for Hardy to hide his loneliness and despair.

"Oh, Alec." Baxter's eyebrows furrowed, and before Hardy could escape he'd been pulled into a tight embrace. "Remember you don't have to be alone. Don't push us away," Baxter murmured into his ear. Hardy nodded against his friend's chest and resisted the urge to do exactly what Baxter had said. Shutting everyone one out was so much easier than facing the pain though. He pulled away, cheeks burning with embarrassment.

When he opened his mouth, Baxter shut him up before he could say anything.

"If the words 'm fine' are on the tip of your tongue, you might as well not say them. Because I can tell when you're not," Baxter growled at him.

Hardy hung his head and clasped his hands on the table. "What do I do if they discharge me from the police force? Daisy walked out on me yesterday because she thinks I am the one who broke up the marriage. I'm losing her, Ed. And then I have nothing left but my career. Emily said that she thinks we could reassess about the pacemaker in maybe a month or so." He looked up and found Baxter's eyes. "Maybe I could still be a detective if I don't die?"

His desperate plea didn't fall on deaf ears. Baxter smiled and put a hand on his arm. "You know what one of the most astonishing things was that I learned these past months?"

Hardy shook his head, wondering where his friend was going with this. Baxter leaned closer and whispered,

"MacMillan's got a soft spot for you."

Hardy backed away and almost fell off his chair. "What? Impossible," he croaked.

Baxter's smile had turned into a mischievous grin. "She does. Apparently not only since you've played the 'I've-got-a-broken-heart' card." He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively.

Hardy's incredulous face was bright red. A particularly exaggerated irregular beat of his heart made him flinch.

"Don't die on me just because your boss is sweet on you," Baxter scoffed and patted him on his shoulder. "You're lucky. We've come up with a plan B."

"Plan B?" Hardy wheezed while fishing out his pills.

"Yes. Because your plan A was shit, and if you hadn't tried so hard to succumb to your disease at the time, someone might have actually listened to me in the first place," Baxter retorted with obvious disgruntlement. "Talking about shit... you look awful. Did you sleep last night?"

Hardy barely registered the distraction and shook his head. Baxter raised an eyebrow and sighed. Standing up, he dragged Hardy from his chair to his bedroom and settled him down on the covers. Hardy fought him meekly, but then gave in. He was exhausted. After a month of basically doing nothing, the past two days had taken a lot out of him. And the hearing hadn't even happened yet.

"You know, this gets a bit old, Alec," Baxter muttered under his breath while he maneuvered Hardy under his blanket. Hardy grunted and swatted at Baxter's hand that was trying to unbutton his shirt.

"For god's sake, at least stop being such an obstinate git and let me help you getting undressed," Baxter snapped at him.

"I'm not an invalid," Hardy grumbled.

"No, you're not. But you're a knackered moron who needs reminding that it's okay to tell people when you're not feeling well. You better speak up tomorrow in that hearing if your heart should give you trouble. Last thing we need is me dragging you to A&E again."

Hardy expelled air through his nostrils. "I have no interest in that either." He eyed Baxter, fighting sleep that was claiming him rapidly. "How much do they know about my condition?" He spat the last word as he did so often.

Baxter sat down next to him. "Enough," he replied uncharacteristically monosyllabic. He studied his fingernails intently. Hardy was sure he was holding back, but there was no use in forcing him to reveal things he couldn't. They were already in trouble, no need to add to their list of wrong-doings.

"Ed, I'm sorry you got pulled into this. This case has done so much damage and I –"

"Shut up and go to sleep, Alec," Baxter silenced him. He fidgeted with the blanket until he was satisfied that Hardy's long legs weren't sticking out. Hardy let him fuss, realizing that his friend needed to fix at least one thing if he couldn't fix anything else.

"I'll see myself out. Is 9 A.M. too early to pick you up? We'd have plenty of time for breakfast."

"That's a waste of properly good food," Hardy mumbled half-asleep. The potpourri of pills he'd have to take in the morning to keep his bum ticker in check during the hearing wasn't inspiring confidence in him that he'd be able to hold anything down.

Baxter gave the blanket a last tug. "It's worth a try, Alec," he said softly and turned off the light.

Hardy drifted off to sleep, hoping Pippa's ghost would be kind to him in his first night in his new home. She wasn't. And when he woke, sputtering and sweat soaked, drowning in the river that he'd never left, he cried alone in the dark, fearing what the future might bring.

A/N: A special Thank You also to LILY_DRAGON who helped with editing. And also a thank you to all readers who have been following so far. I hope the conclusion of this epic saga will live up to the expectations. Always happy to hear from you!