A/N: Dear readers, this story was inspired by some of the pictures that have surfaced from filming Broadchurch Series 3, as well as my own thoughts about possible story lines. If you don't want to encounter any spoilery ideas, do not read on… otherwise I hope you'll enjoy. Be warned… there isn't only fluff in this…
A thank you to those who have served as my test audience – HAZELMIST, FRANZI86, EXCUSEMEWHILEIWAGMYTAIL, LILYDRAGON, LIZANN5869, HALFASLUG, and the ever gracious KTROSE who also tried to fix my errors. What remains is mine. Comments are always welcome.
- Alec Hardy, Broadchurch Series 1
Chapter 1 – Shades, Ties and A Ponytail
Ellie Miller was having a shit day.
It started in the morning. Tom in all his teenage glory refused to get up until she sent in his little brother to steal his blanket and his phone. The four-year-old complied enthusiastically, and ten minutes later, her boys were seated around the breakfast table. Ellie watched her sons wolf down heaps of toast and eggs. The sun filtered through the window, glowing on their dark blonde hair, and despite the hectic start, a peaceful feeling settled in Ellie's stomach. She ruffled Fred's curls and restrained herself to do the same with Tom.
They still ran late for school drop off.
Tom grunted a goodbye and reminded her he'd be late due to football practice before he jogged off into the building. At the nursery school, Ellie had a rude awakening. She'd forgotten to bring the clearance letter from their GP to allow Fred back into school after the nasty viral illness he'd had for the past week. Fred wailed in her arms when she dragged him back to the car, begging to see his friends. He'd been bored to death and longed for company that could appreciate his love for speaking and walking ninja turtles. She had no choice but to take him to work with her.
"Fred, my love. How about we go to the police station together? Nish is there," she suggested, banking on Fred's fondness for her DS.
Fred's face was scrunched into a disapproving scowl, but he nodded in agreement. DS Patel was one of his favorite subjects for endless lectures about super heroes, dinosaurs, or whatever else his latest fancy was.
They made it just in time for Ellie to catch the morning brief. She shoved Fred into her office and handed over her phone with a few games ready to go. Ellie chastised herself for her poor parenting choices, but what else was she supposed to do. At least he'd be occupied for the moment.
She closed the door quietly and sneaked up to the back of the assembled group. CS Jenkinson had already started. Ellie frowned. It couldn't be anything good if her boss had taken the lead.
Her instincts didn't betray her.
To everyone's surprise Jenkinson announced that the Wessex Police had decided the region needed a new DCI position and that it would be sponsored through the Broadchurch Constabulary. It was even more of a surprise when she casually dropped the name of their new boss. Jenkinson left the dumbfounded crowd to witter among themselves and retreated swiftly into the sanctuary of her office.
Ellie followed her and barged in as soon as it didn't seem utterly unprofessional.
"You're bringing Hardy back? Of all people that you could have looked at," Ellie threw at Jenkinson the moment she'd slammed the door shut.
Jenkinson looked up from her desk, eyebrows raised and unfazed by Ellie's outburst.
"He's qualified. He's sorted out his heart condition; or at least I was assured it's sufficiently taken care of. And he wanted this position. So-"
"Wait! Did you say he wanted the position?" Ellie cut her off.
Bloody wanker! How did he dare come back and piss on her turf again? She'd only been made DI a few months back and had been quite enjoying leading her team without someone telling her what to do.
"Yes," came Jenkinson's level reply. Her expression didn't give anything away. "The two of you should be able to work together well, shouldn't you? After all it's not a first."
Ellie groaned. "No. It isn't."
She hadn't seen him since the conclusion of the Sandbrook trials half a year back. At that time, he had been working in the South Mercia Police Force as DI for about a month. During the trial, a bunch of hungry journalists had trailed him. But they hadn't been alone. To Ellie's utter bewilderment he had a fanclub. He hated his groupies just as much as he loathed the press, or at least that's what he'd said. Ellie had caught him several times being extremely nice to his devoted followers. He'd smiled, placed a hand on shoulders, and made the odd joke which nearly gave Ellie a stroke. Every time he had become aware of Ellie watching him, his lanky body stiffened, and he'd shoved his hands in his pockets and put on a scowly face. He was a pathetic actor.
They had stayed in touch. He'd started it. One morning, she had been greeted by a text complaining that his numpty DS was irking him. She'd written back, calling him a knob for most likely being a pain in the arse to the poor man. He'd replied with a smiley face and 'who says it's a man?'. It took Ellie the whole day to admit to herself that she'd been bothered by that tiny tidbit of information. His daily feed of office woes quickly became a routine that she'd only missed in the past couple of weeks. Now she knew why. The fuckwit must have quit at South Mercia.
"Then we're all set here, Ellie." Jenkinson's dismissive words pulled her back from a place far away.
Ellie sighed. "When does he start?"
Ellie squeezed her eyes shut. "Quite right."
On cue, the door was thrown open and in walked DCI Alec Hardy. He was vividly engaged in a conversation with Fred who was trailing him like an overly excited puppy.
"No, you're wrong, Hadee. Mickey has the orange mask and Donnie the purple," Fred argued, his jaw set in a determined thrust.
"No, wee Fred. I'm certain it was Mickey who's purple," Hardy retorted with equal zeal.
"No!" Fred stomped his foot on the floor and swiftly pulled down his trousers to reveal his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles underpants. He pointed at one of the green figures.
"See - orange!" he crowed in triumph.
Hardy stooped down and squinted at the small head of the turtle. A smile flicked over his face, revealing a burst of crinkles around his eyes.
"Why, wee Fred. You're right. You're a keen observer, just like your mother," Hardy stated and finally looked up at the two women.
His sparkly eyes met Ellie's and the small expression of amusement broadened into a smile she'd only seen once on him when he'd told her that he'd made it through his operation.
Fred used the opportunity to sneeze on Hardy who chuckled, grabbed Fred's nose with his long fingers and wiggled it.
"You have to think of your reward, wee Fred," he said and rose to his full height.
Ellie and Jenkinson stared at him as if he was a ghost despite Hardy looking more alive than he had during his whole prior time in Broadchurch. He nicely filled out his pristinely pressed suit and he'd gotten a haircut.
"CS Jenkinson," he greeted Jenkinson with a nod and then turned to Miller.
He took a bouncy step toward her, stuck out his hand, and exclaimed "Detective Inspector Miller" with so much glee that she wondered if the reason why his heart condition had improved was because he'd been given drugs with some interesting side effects. She took his hand, and before she knew it the sneaky bastard had pulled her into a hug. He'd only done that once before, after the guilty verdict for the murderous Sandbrook trio, and she'd almost slapped him.
"Hardy! Bloody hell, let go of me!" Ellie cried out, wiggling in his arms.
He did as he was told, but a satisfied smirk lingered in those bright eyes that beamed with life and energy and had lost all weariness that she was so used to.
"Nice to see you too, Miller," he mumbled, hiding his amusement poorly.
Fred tugged on his trouser legs. Hardy cast down his gaze, giving Ellie an opportunity to gather herself.
"I know what I want, Hadee." Fred bounced up and down and Hardy ruffled his hair.
Ellie froze. It was too much. Her brain was screaming at her that this image was in no way reconcilable with the image of Hardy in her head.
"I want your sunglasses!" Fred demanded, reaching his grabby hand towards Hardy's silky grey suit jacket.
"Ahaha - wee Fred," Hardy sniggered and fished a pair of suspiciously stylish, dark tinted spectacles out of the inside pocket of his jacket. Ellie gaped when she caught a glimpse of the colorful shiny lining. He handed them to the little boy who happily put them on his nose.
Ellie stared at the fashionable eyewear now decorating her son's face. Then her eyes wandered toward Hardy who had shoved his hands into his pockets and shot her an upward gaze.
"These are your sunglasses?" she asked incredulously.
"Not any more," he mumbled.
He pulled out his hand and his long fingers fidgeted with his dark blue and red checkered tie, stroking it repeatedly.
"Ugh, don't be a smart arse, you knob," she threw back at him, resorting to the safe ground of insulting him.
He grinned and found her eyes. "It's good to be here, Miller."
On his first day back he spooked out the team with a friendly 'good morning' and a word of praise. Nish and Frank pulled Ellie aside and interrogated her about what the hell was wrong with Hardy. Ellie was at a loss. It was unnerving at best and annoying at the worst. On more than one occasion she wanted to strangle him when those formerly sorrowful eyes teased her with a grin.
The good mood didn't last long though. By his third day back, he'd already yelled at all of them twice before noon, cursed at the media, and used up all the tea bags. He squirmed in his seat during the morning brief, and that air of misery that he used to wear like a cloak had returned.
Ellie couldn't help but notice that he appeared to be uncomfortable in his own skin. He kept rubbing his wrists, and his restless fingers curled and uncurled repeatedly. When he got up, Ellie swore he moaned. The bounce had left his step.
"You all right?" she asked, knocking on the frame of his open door.
"'M fine," he muttered.
"If you're fine, what's bugging you then?" Ellie quizzed, not letting him get off the hook.
"Miller, I am fine," he emphasized, kneading his shoulder.
She let him be for the rest of the day. When the evening came round, she'd been so busy that she hadn't noticed that he had left early.
The next day he was late. He'd never been late since she knew him. When he stormed into CID, windswept and suit rumpled, people felt reassured that their boss was still Alec Hardy and hadn't been replaced by some alien imposter.
He didn't say much the whole morning, trudging back and forth between his office and the kitchenette. Ellie kept track on his tea consumption. He had dragged back his sixth cup into his lair when Ellie got a better glimpse of his face. The ghostly paleness was back, only brightened up by a fleeting reddish hue on his cheeks. He shot her a quick glance in passing, his eyes shining.
This time It wasn't due to glee though. The penny dropped. Fred had been sick a week back and Hardy's discourse over amphibian superheroes with her son had ended with a wet slobbering smooch on Hardy's stubbly cheek. There was no doubt - Hardy was ill. Not like his usual death defying ill, but ill like an ordinary human being.
Ellie's lips curled up in smile. A deep maternal instinct paired with an equally deeply rooted drive to solve a mystery took over.
She got up, slowly circling in on her prey. She would have to tread carefully and pull out all of her skills as an interrogator to get a confession out of this one. She made a cautious effort to close in on his office by striking up random conversations with her co-workers. By the time she finally made it to his door, he'd closed it.
Ellie loitered in front of it, trying to come up with a good excuse to disturb him. She didn't have to. The door cracked open and a raspy "Come in already" invited her to enter the lair of the beast.
He well deserved his nickname 'Shitface'. Even his hair looked miserable and droopy. He peered at her with glassy eyes and a glowing nose.
"So, not feeling so well, aren't we?" she began nonchalantly.
"Miller, don't start," he croaked, followed by a short but nonetheless hacking cough. He swallowed hard and winced in pain.
"Ah, having a wee bit of a cold there," Miller stated and stepped closer.
Hardy grunted a denial and continued to pretend he was working on a file. Stealthily she sidled up to him. She had enough experience with a defiant teenaged boy and a willful toddler that Hardy seemed an easy kill. She couldn't have been more wrong.
His hand clamped down on her wrist before she could raise her arm halfway up toward feeling his forehead for the fever that he undoubtedly had.
"Don't even think about it," he growled. His skin was burning hers.
"Bloody hell, Hardy. You clearly got the flu and shouldn't be here," she called him out and yanked her arm away.
"Miller, I had a flu shot. 'M fine," he assured her with much less conviction than the day prior.
"Shit you are," she grumbled but backed off.
He dropped the file folder on his desk and swiveled around in his chair to face her. His glare would have been more impressive if his right eye hadn't been bright red where the white should have been.
"Miller, 'm fine," he wheezed.
Ellie's eyebrow went up. "Yeah, I can see that."
Hardy rolled his glassy red eyes and shook his head. Then he clambered to his feet, plucked his coat off the hook, and put it on with a bat wing swoop.
"You're in charge, Miller," he sighed, patted her on the back, and left a flabbergasted Ellie behind in his empty office.
The next day, he didn't return.
Ellie tapped a pen on her desk, mulling over her course of action. It wasn't like Hardy to skip work. What if his dodgy heart had given out on him for good? She hated herself for worrying, but she couldn't help but do so. This man was a shit magnet, and up until when he had returned energetic and dapper, she'd been convinced he couldn't take care of himself.
She focused her attention on her work but soon enough drifted back to staring at his deserted office. He hadn't returned her texts or calls. Twirling her mobile in her hand, she bet herself how much longer she could refrain from doing something utterly stupid and swing by his house.
She didn't even know where he was staying. She assumed The Traders as he had recently arrived. Groaning in exasperation, she snatched up the office phone and dialed the desk sergeant.
After a brief back and forth, she ascertained that Hardy by no means was living in a hotel. He'd taken on a cottage on the cliff side, close to the beach. Not for the first time, Ellie wondered what drove this man who had a clear phobia of water to seek out lodgings right next to rivers and oceans. It was so him though. Always stubbornly refusing to give in.
She dialed his number one last time, already walking to her car. It went to voice mail again. Images of him passed out on his living room floor flashed in front of her, fueled by the vivid memory of Briar Cliff, while she was racing through the windy roads of Broadchurch.
Her car came to a screeching halt at the bottom of the grassy hill that climbed up to the Harbor Cliff. Ellie glanced up the narrow stairs that lead to the white house. For a man with a heart condition they seemed dreadfully steep. She grinned at the echo of his words in her mind – 's not a condition' - and hurried up the steps, taking two at a time. Her hair came loose from the tight bun it had been wound into, framing her flushed face.
She crossed the small terrace and skidded to a halt in front of the sliding doors. There wasn't an obvious entrance, so she knocked onto the glass. She squinted to catch any movement beyond the window, and absentmindedly wrestled her unruly curls into a long pony tail.
Nothing happened. No one answered and she couldn't make out anything inside.
She rapped the glass one more time. Maybe the desk sergeant had given her the wrong address. Or maybe… she didn't want to think about it. She ignored the buzzing of her phone in her pocket book. It buzzed again. Cursing under her breath, she fished it out in between sunglasses, keys, makeup, baby wipes, and forgotten snacks.
Hardy had sent her a message: It's open, Miller.
Why was it that she could hear his eye rolling through a text? Sighing, she slid the door aside and stepped into his home. He was nowhere to be seen.
"Hardy?" she called out.
"Bedroom, in the back," came a croaking reply, cut short by the most horrible cough that Ellie had heard in a long time.
She followed the hacking noises and found Hardy sitting at the edge of his bed, slumped over and shaking.
"Why are you wearing a shirt and tie?" Ellie blurted out in disbelief. The man was expelling his own lung but was dressed up to go to his own funeral.
"Seriously?" he wheezed.
"Have you got no pajamas?" she asked and closed the distance between them.
He shot her a beady-eyed glance. "'course I got pajamas. Was too tired when I came home yesterday."
Ellie could smell the lie a million miles away. "Did you pass out before you could change?"
His feverish gaze lingered on her, then he dropped it and mumbled, "Sort of."
Ellie searched his face and decided not to press the issue. He had revealed more than he usually would.
His arms spread apart, he braced himself at the edge of the mattress. Everything about him – from that annoying lock of hair sticking to his forehead to his chattering teeth – told of how miserable he must be feeling. His crusted over long lashes obscured his bright red eyes. Ellie had no idea about the multitude of viral illnesses that were out there, but this wasn't the flu. It was clearly the same bug that had ravaged poor Fred the week prior. Ellie felt unreasonably guilty for having exposed Hardy to it.
"Let me help you," she requested when she saw him fumbling with the blue tie.
She reached for it, brushing away his trembling fingers. Jumping with her touch, he dropped his hands into his lap and let her loosen the tie. She felt his hot breath on her chest when she pulled it over his head.
Ellie paused for a heartbeat. In a different life and a different world this could have been interpreted in a very different way. Another coughing spell pulled her away from her reverie. She looked down on him, right when he tipped his head back. And for a second that stretched into an eternity, she indulged and lost herself in those wide hazel eyes, wondering if that glow in them was due to the fever or mirroring how he used to gaze upon his ex-wife before she fucked up his life. Then he blinked, and the moment was gone.
Ellie restrained herself from physically shaking of the feelings this brief exchange had evoked. They were Hardy and Miller, former detectives club, nothing more. She was helping a friend who was alone and ill. Just like she did nearly two summers ago.
She put down the tie, she'd been holding onto. It was expensive.
He must have noticed her curious expression. "'S a present from my daughter," he explained and fidgeted with his shirt buttons.
He'd been seeing Daisy on a regular basis and patching up his relationship with her, while she had been patching up hers with Tom.
Ellie watched him for a while, struggling to make his fingers do what he wanted them to. They both lost their patience at the same time. He gave up with a huff and she took over, finishing what he had started. She peeled the shirt off, leaving him in his undershirt and suit trousers.
"I'm not gonna take those off," she said with a smirk and pointed to his groin.
He blushed fiercely.
"Erm… I'm just gonna… yeah," he stammered, vaguely waving at his pajama bottoms that were neatly placed at the foot end of the bed.
"'S not funny, Millah," he whined, his Scottish accent swelling.
"Oh, it so is, Hardy," she retorted barely holding back her laughter.
He ducked his head and pressed his lips into a thin line. Ellie felt pity for him. He was no match for her in his sorry state.
"I'll make you some tea. You look like you could use some. Have you eaten today?"
He shook his head. Why was she no surprised?
"Do you have food in the house?" Doubt laced her words.
"Got some bread and salad," he yawned.
Clearly his diet hadn't changed.
"Right. I'll see what I can do," she said, leaving the bedroom.
"Millah," he called after her. She turned to find him smiling sheepishly at her. "Thanks."
Her lips curled up. "You're welcome."
She hurried to the kitchen before it could get soppier. It took some digging to find the tea and things to produce a halfway edible sandwich. Balancing the plate on her arm and two mugs in her hands, she made her way back to the bedroom.
He'd finished putting on his pajamas and was snuggled in under the blanket. His eyes were closed and his chest moved with his heavy breaths. Ellie watched him sleep for a while, amazed at how peaceful he looked, even while not feeling well. He'd changed in that time she hadn't seen him. Or maybe he hadn't so much as changed, but had finally found his way back from that bloody river.
Ellie moved to leave.
"'M not sleepin'," he mumbled and cracked his eyelids open.
Bloody hell. He'd let her stand there thinking he was knocked out.
"Knob. Could have told me when I came in first," she admonished him.
The corner of his mouth pulled up and a few crinkles budded around his eyes.
She lowered herself onto the bed and placed his food on the night stand. Her pony tail fell forward, flowing over his hand that had reached for the cup.
"Your hair got longer," he commented softly, pushing it back over her shoulder.
"Your hair got shorter," she replied quietly, not looking at him.
Neither one of them said anything for a while, both hanging on to their own thoughts. They sipped their tea in silence until Ellie couldn't hold back any longer.
"Why did you come back?" she wanted to know.
He put down the cup and fell back onto his pillow.
"I missed it," was his simple reply.
"What? You're full of shit. You hated it here." Incredulity made her voice sharp.
He shrugged. "I did. But not in the end. Sandbrook isn't home any more. Wasn't going to go back to Scotland. Thought I could try out the only other place that had ever meant anything in my life."
Their eyes met. There was mutual understanding with no need for more words.
Then suddenly, a grin crept over her face.
"What?" he growled.
"Seriously though, a house next to the beach?" she teased.
"Millah, don't start." His eyes rolled up and he stared at the ceiling.
"What were you thinking?" She gently whacked him on the arm.
"They didn't tell me it was this close," he defended himself meekly, reminding her of a conversation they had what seemed a lifetime ago.
She chuckled and he grinned. His eyelids fluttered shut, but he forced them open again. He didn't last long.
"'S fine. Daisy'll like it," he slurred, half gone already.
"Go to sleep, Hardy," she told him and tucked the blanket tighter around him.
She was almost out of the room, when he muttered, "Missed you."
Ellie wasn't sure if she'd heard him right. It made her stomach flip. "Missed you too, wanker," she whispered when she closed the door behind her.
A/N: This will be a multi-chapter story. I wanted to give a heads up that there will eventually be mentioning of sexual assault and some description, however nothing explicitly graphic. The only reason why I am mentioning it this early is to warn people before they possibly get invested in the story and then might not want to finish it when we get there. This was a fluffy start, but everyone who knows me must realize that it won't stay that way. Let the ride begin…