When the Storm Breaks

By Hazelmist

A/N: IT'S MY FOURTH ANNIVERSARY! It's NOT the last chapter, but it is a chapter I couldn't cut. I had to retrace my footsteps and say my own goodbyes to my beloved beach. Just a reminder that my Sandbrook case is AU, Keira is Alec's daughter, Vicky's the ex-wife, Iris is his Aunt, Marty's her nephew, and Worthington's Ellie's boss/Alec's former co-worker. Previously on WTSB, a cold case and a creepy cemetery in Sandbrook, a summer stroll on the jetty, early birthday gifts, promises, lots of tears, lots of angry voicemails, RIP Alec's mobile, Alec and Ellie said goodbye, then Ellie left Alec and blackmailed Vicky into bringing Keira to the hospital (he hadn't seen her in two years) before he went in for a surgery he had slim chances of surviving (Iris pushed for it). Iris took credit for reuniting the family after Ellie begged Marty not to tell Alec she was still there. The last scene ends with a crying Keira and Vicky blaming Ellie for her daughter's grief. And Ellie ran…

TRIGGER WARNING: You may find yourself either crying or plotting ways to kill the author. You might want to wait until after she posts the final chapter before you take action. But if you do experience these symptoms, just know that the author apologizes and is sending out virtual hugs.

Dear SEA, it's been four years since I started writing this on a whim, never imagining that months later this would be the way your story ended. I rewrote it over and over again… I can't change your ending, but God knows I've tried.

Chapter 48: The Sunrise

Love you too, Daddy.

Keira hated the bloody surgeon, the bloody hospital and the cloying sickening stench that had to be death. And she hated Mum even more for dragging her there. She'd nicked her father's wallet from Iris's purse and bolted at her first opportunity.

She didn't stop running until she was on the next bus out of South Seaberg.

Her father's wallet contained just enough cash to cover what she'd need to quell the pounding in her head and the tremor in her hands. Derrick would have the cheap stuff, but it was taking more and more to block her father out. Tonight with his voice still echoing in her mind, it would be nigh impossible.

You're so beautiful.

She told herself she didn't fucking care. He'd left her. She'd had three years to adjust and to fill the emptiness with something stronger. It didn't matter that today he'd held her, that he'd listened to her, that he'd looked at her and that he hadn't judged her. It didn't matter that he was still a soppy idiot.

I did it because I love you.

He'd lied to her and he'd made the decision to take the fall for Mum. But Keira had shut him out when he'd wanted to come back to her, even though he had to have known what a fucked up mess she'd become. And then he'd promised her - he'd promised her that he wouldn't - he wouldn't -

I won't die. You can tell me how it ends tomorrow. I love you darlin'.

Keira got off at the next stop, determined to forget him.

But that one glimpse of her father had already changed everything.

Please. Please, you stupid, bloody idiot, don't you dare fucking die on her or me or Iris or Fred or Tom.

Ellie kept driving until she ran out of petrol and had to eat. She didn't want to go home, so she grabbed something at the petrol station and pulled off to eat it. The hours passed in a hazy blur, as Ellie sat at a picnic table in a neglected park, peeling at splintering wood and etching her name into it with her fingernail. It wasn't until nightfall that she realized she'd been here with Alec, and that she'd carved his name amongst crudely drawn hearts and signatures of young lovers.

She felt as if Alec had carved her heart out too, leaving her hollow and empty. Her boys would alleviate the ache tomorrow with loving hugs and bright-eyed smiles, but tonight Ellie was barely strong enough to walk into her house. Shutting the door behind her, she leaned against it. Her knees threatened to give out on her, but if she slid down to the floor, she'd never get up again.

"Where the hell have you been?"

The hallway lit up and a shadow crossed Ellie's path.

"I know you were with him!"

Ellie went into the kitchen. Her sister was right behind her, hissing in her ear so she wouldn't wake the kids. "This time you're going to tell me what was so bloody important that you needed to see him at the crack of dawn. I tried calling you both earlier, and I left messages-"

Ellie didn't hear anything as she went through the motions of making a cup of tea, or at least she was trying. She nearly burnt her hand on the kettle. The green glow of the clock over the stove bathed her shaking fingers as she held them up in front of her. Midnight had struck and one of the worst days of her life had finally ended. Ellie cupped a hand over her mouth and shuddered.

"He's not coming back," she told Lucy.

"I don't believe it." Lucy shook her head and drummed her fingers on the countertop. "He always shows up."

"He's not coming back," Ellie repeated. Her voice was remarkably steady, but still carried something that made Lucy freeze.

"Lucy." She looked at her sister. Lucy's eyes widened as it dawned on her. Ellie trembled as she forced the dreadful words out. "Luce, Alec's never coming back."

The silence was awful, the ringing in her ears was worse, but the echo of those four words was terrible and terrifying. A whirring click of a teakettle, and suddenly all of the gears inside of her were grinding to a halt. She couldn't breathe. Alec's heart had stopped, but the cogs and wheels of time mercilessly spun faster, tearing her apart.

Her sister sat her down and Ellie explained what happened. She must've cried, because Lucy was rocking her like she used to when they were children, and Ellie had had a nightmare about the monstrous skeleton in her closet. Alec had tried to make the nightmares go away - just like Lucy had when Ellie was small - but death and grief were monsters that no one could fight.

"Oh, El, I'm so, so sorry."

Ellie wept for Alec, for Keira, and for her own two sons who had lost another father. And her sister held her until Ellie was ready to stop crying and let go.

"Don't tell Fred or Tom," Ellie begged her. Lucy grabbed the tea towel off the stove and cleaned the tear tracks from her face.

"Don't tell them. Don't tell anyone," Ellie pleaded, grasping at her sister's arms.

She couldn't handle saying the words out loud, let alone breaking the news to her sons. Now she understood why Alec had been so hell-bent on leaving. He'd given Ellie a gift and a way out. Joe's dirty little secret and Danny's death had been splashed across papers and had driven her from her home. But Alec had done everything in his power to leave her exactly where he wanted her to be. She had a fresh start in a new town with her two boys comfortably settled and already somewhat happier.

"We're not going to tell them," Ellie repeated. "We're not going to tell anyone."

Alec's last wish was for her to let go and move on, and to keep his death from her boys until the scars had healed. Ellie would do everything in her power to fulfil that wish to give her children a better life. One day, in the future, when the wound wasn't so fresh, and they'd left the past behind them, she'd tell Tom that Alec was no longer with the family he'd only had twenty minutes with. And one day, in the far future, she'd tell Fred about what had happened to Daddy.

But not tonight.

Suddenly, Ellie knew what she had to do.

"I need to go to Broadchurch. I'll be back in the morning," Ellie promised, squeezing her sister's hand. Lucy smoothed down Ellie's curls and bit her lip.

"I was wrong, El," she began haltingly, "Alec Hardy was a good man. If things had been different…" Lucy tapered off and dabbed at the tears gathering in the corners of her eyes.

"I know you didn't want me to get hurt, but I'm not your baby sister," Ellie told her gently, but firmly. "I can make my own decisions and stand on my own two feet now."

Lucy studied her for a long moment and then she stood. Ellie sometimes forgot that she was so tiny, because somehow she could still fully envelope her in her thin arms.

"You'll always be my baby sister. And I'll always be here for you, I promise," Lucy vowed, kissing Ellie's cheek. "I'm sorry, El. After so many years of letting you take care of me - when Joe left and Alec showed up - I wanted to help."

"I know, Luce."

Lucy and Alec had been there for her when her world had gone dark, and she'd needed someone to guide her out of that horrific storm. But now that she'd let go of Alec, it was time for her to release Lucy's hand and walk away on her own. Her sister would always be there, but Ellie was confident that she could take care of her boys and that they could all move forward. Whatever storm that was thrown into their path, she was certain that they'd get through it.

"Thank you." Ellie brushed a kiss over Lucy's forehead. Then she turned around and left the kitchen and another piece of her old self behind.

When you wake up, we're going to Broadchurch. We'll take the boys and Keira too. We'll all go to the beach and then we'll walk along those cliffs you love so much. And then – then you can ask me again…

It started with a storm on those cliffs, overlooking the beloved beach she'd always call home.

She stood on the precipice and gazed out over the ocean that was so alive. The water swelled and the waves crashed against the sandy shore. The sea rose and fell, and the tides went in and out in an endless cycle. Ellie had fallen off of the ledge and she'd nearly drowned, but she'd risen up from the ashes of her old life that Joe had burnt to the ground. Alec's death had crushed her too, but she would rise again, and this time she'd be stronger.

The hut behind her looked empty, but Ellie knew that there was a ghost hiding in the darkness. She hoped that Alec had freed Danny from that shadowed room, and had laid him to rest when he'd arrested Joe; but the stains that Joe had tried to scrub away would always be there. That bastard had left a stain on her too, but Alec's soft caress had wiped away some of the filth she'd felt on her skin and within her memories. And tonight she'd leave that all behind.

Taking a deep breath, she returned to the heart of her old life; the house she'd once called home. From the outside, it looked the same, but inside it had all of the warmth and comforts that she never would've found again if she'd stayed. Fortunately, the house had quickly sold to a cheerful Irish family who were unaware of the dark secrets that the house held within those walls. The spectres would never bother them. Ellie wished that they would be as happy as she and her boys had once been. Turning her back on it, she headed for the outskirts of town.

Amongst the shrubbery and hedges, she found her safe haven and temporary home. She always knew that she'd have to leave Broadchurch, but she hadn't been able to break free until Alec had walked in with a storm on his heels. He'd tramped through the cottage, climbed into her bed, and together they'd escaped the loneliness and the nightmares, curled around each other. She kept calling him back to her, seeking out the warmth that they'd discovered that night, and feeding and nurturing it until it sparked and kindled into a flame. The fire had blazed but they hadn't been strong enough to control it. Ellie wondered now if it would've made a difference if Alec had stamped that spark out months ago. It didn't matter, the fire had razed Alec to the ground, but it hadn't killed her. Far from it. If anything, his death would only make her more determined to live the life he'd wanted for her and her boys.

She climbed past the house, pausing at the overlook where she'd brought Alec on her birthday, before their first kiss in the kitchen. Then she circled around the old Church to the cemetery ensconced behind it, and Danny's grave glittering amongst the crumbling headstones.

The last time she'd been here, Alec had told her that he was dying. And now he was gone. Cupping her hand over her mouth, she sank to her knees and slumped against Danny's gravestone.

Tomorrow, Alec's family would choose a place for him to rest. Alec's loved ones wanted nothing to do with her, and Alec had forbidden her from going to his funeral or his grave. The man that his family would remember was someone that Ellie had only caught snatches of in fleeting smiles and short wheezing laughs. She would never know the happier man that he'd once been, but she had known and loved a man that they would never know. She wondered if she had met a younger Alec if she could've loved him as much as she loved the older, grumpier man that had been so different from her ex-husband. Ellie didn't dwell on it. Alec had been as broken as she had been. He'd been able to understand her, comfort her and love her in a way that no one else could or ever would. She left her thoughts and prayers at the grave that had brought them together and moved on.

Broadchurch was dead quiet at this hour; a ghost town. Shivering, Ellie understood the eeriness that Alec had felt every time he'd entered Broadchurch. She'd been gone for a month, but in some way this place was already strange to her. Somehow, it didn't feel like home anymore. Ellie loved the beach, the ocean, the hint of salt in the air, the sea breeze, the swaying sea grass, the cliffs, and even the scratchy granules of sand that got into everything; but as she looked up into that never-ending sky, she knew she'd lost something here that she'd never find again no matter how many times she returned. She sat down on that stupid bench anyway.

Closing her eyes, she waited. Some people believed that when you lost someone, there was a moment when you would feel them. When she lost her father, she'd felt a warmth in the room that she couldn't explain, and when her mother had followed him, she'd had a dream that night that her mother had told her that everything would be okay. She didn't know if that was the kind of feeling that grieving loved ones searched for when they visited churches, and mediums, and held séances to summon the silenced voices of the dead, but Ellie had found a kind of closure on both those occasions.

She didn't feel anything now. He'd promised that like Broadchurch, he'd stay in her head and in her heart; but Ellie had never felt further away from him than she did now. She was sitting on the same bloody bench where he'd first held her, and she realized that she was waiting for him to reach for her. He'd always followed her and he'd always been there for her; but when she opened her eyes, she was alone.

Alec wasn't coming.

Not tonight.

"Can you at least give me a fucking sign!" she burst out.

Her pocket vibrated and Ellie groaned. She already knew that she couldn't waste her life waiting on a bench, but he could've given her something that might've made it easier to get up without him. The phone persisted until she dug it out of her pocket and squinted at the caller ID. Ellie almost chucked her phone over the seawall.

It was that bloody woman who had convinced Alec to commit suicide, after trying to stop him from seeing his own daughter. Ellie wanted to yell at that frigid woman, but screaming at Iris and blaming her for Alec's death wasn't going to bring him back.

Iris left a voicemail, but Ellie deleted it without even listening to it. In a fit of fury, Ellie deleted Iris' contact from her phone, because she was never calling that woman. Vicky and Iris had made their feelings perfectly clear, and Ellie had no desire to meet them again. In spite of leather, chains and combat boots, and the uncontrollable raging anger radiating from Keira; Ellie had witnessed the hug and the small smile that Keira had given her father. She would've liked to have had the chance to speak to Keira, and to check up on her in the future. It was one of the few things that Alec had asked of her; but now, Ellie wasn't sure she could fulfil that promise.

Impulsively, she rang Alec one last time. She got his voicemail; a generic message that included a snippet of his voice and a hint of the disdain he'd had for his first name.

He'd let her call him Alec anyway.

"You bloody idiot," Ellie's voice echoed from the other end of the empty line, and suddenly the words were pouring out of her with a final crashing wave of grief and anger. "You stupid, fucking, bleeding bastard. You can go fuck yourself!" she snarled into the handset. "I hate you for this. I hate you for all the shit that you put me through. You left me and my sons. You made them cry, your blood's probably still on my fucking floor, you're stuck in my bloody head all the bloody time, and I can't –" she choked up. She didn't hate him, she bloody loved him. "I can't – I can't forget you, but God, Alec, I want to." She moaned and sniffled. She didn't want to forget him, but it hurt.

"I don't know if I can do this." She gasped. "How am I supposed to move on if I see you everywhere and in everything? Please, Alec, can you-" Another whimper cut her off. Several interminable seconds passed before she could breathe past the hole in her chest.

"You were right," she conceded. "You should've left a long time ago and taken your stubborn broody shtick with you. Then I wouldn't be sitting here on this bloody bench, weeping over some fuckwitted knob who couldn't get it through his thick skull that I-I-lo-" She broke off and swiped her sleeve across her nose. "I'll be okay," she assured him. "I'm going to be fine." Her voice cracked. "But I'll never forgive you, Alec. You have no idea how much I – I – I lo– fuck." The three words were strangled by her tears. He'd never hear them. She was talking to her bloody self.

"Goodbye, Alec."

Ellie listened to the silence long after the voicemail timed out and the call had ended. Swallowing one last sob, she stared at the black screen until her anger trickled away.

"I love you,Alec," she whispered.

Then with a shaking hand, she unlocked her phone to delete the contact, even though it could mean that she'd never hear his voice again.

She was too exhausted and drained for her body to handle anymore sobbing, but scalding tears irritated her eyes and wet her cheeks. Twisting around on the bench, she found the ocean and the brightening wide open sky. The colours became more distinct with each slow minute that passed. A car drove by on the road behind her, and a dog barked at seagulls on the beach below. All around her the world was waking up and coming alive. Ellie felt dead inside, but she was already itching to get back to Edgewood so that she could see her boys. She knew that Lucy, Tom and Fred were waiting for her, ready to relight that spark of life within her that no tragedy could ever smother. Lucy would have coffee for her; Fred would giggle and splatter his breakfast everywhere; and Tom would barrel downstairs to give her a quick hug and a mumbled "love you" before school. Her heart might have been broken, but life would go on with or without Alec Hardy.

And as the sun rose and a new day dawned; Ellie wiped the tears from her eyes, got up off that bench, and left Broadchurch and her tragic past behind her.

God will put you in the right place, even if you don't know it at the time.

Sitting on the beach beneath the cliffs, a young woman gazes out over the same ocean that Ellie Richardson had months earlier. Her hair's a shade of blue that falls somewhere between the azure sky overhead and the endless sea, curling and cresting in small waves to kiss that bright horizon. She's beautiful, from the sparkle in her eyes to her pale arms that still retain bruises of an uglier but nearly invisible hue of black and blue.

Silver and sapphire bangles flash in the sunlight as she hugs her long legs to her chest and smiles. No one would ever know from looking at her that less than a year ago she was teetering on the edge of a deadly drug addiction. She's healthy and clean now, largely thanks to a scarred man with a heart deeper than the ocean and a mysterious woman who caught her once when she was falling.

Her smile stretches wide as a curly-haired boy in an orange jumper stops to goggle at her for several minutes.

"You're a bit young for me," she teases the child, "But you're very cute."

She playfully tousles the boy's curls and watches his brown eyes follow the glimmer of her bracelets. "You fancy these?" The fascinated child plucks at the one with real sapphires and a diamond. "That one's my favorite," she agrees, "My Dad gave it to me, but you can have this one." She removes one of the cheaper ones and offers it to him.

"Where's your Dad?" She squints down the beach, seeking out the young man who was with him earlier.

"Daddy's protecting the princess." He's obviously not talking about the man currently chatting up a girl in a bikini.

"What's your name?" she asks.

"Fred," he answers with a shy smile.

"I'm Keira."

His eyes bulge and he gasps.

"Princess Keira?"

For wee Fred, it's love at first sight.

For Keira, it's a slow, dawning realization that doesn't hit her until she's back in Sandbrook with a torn photograph of a curly-haired woman and her two boys.

But by then it's already twelve months too late…

Nevertheless, that night is when the storm breaks.

A/N: This chapter, I loved and fucking hated it so much. It's a complete mess. If you want, you can stop here. But this was never the ending I intended. There's always been another chapter in my head. It's been there since day one and I've fought with it but I've never been able to get rid of it.